Yilmaz Warns Turkey EU Crisis If Date Not Set for Talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said on Friday the European Union would provoke a crisis in relations with Ankara if it failed to set a date at a December summit for starting accession talks.

Plagued by economic turmoil as it gears up for a November 3 election–Turkey recently approved a package of political reforms in the hope of winning a date at the Copenhagen summit to begin its long-awaited membership negotiations.

"Any decision (at Copenhagen) other than setting a certain date will not satisfy Turkey," Yilmaz told Reuters after meetings with EU officials in Brussels.

"Turkey belongs to the enlargement process–but it can only be fully part of the process by getting a date."

Asked what would happen if–as is quite possible–the EU leaders fail to grant this wish–Yilmaz said: "There would be a crisis." He did not say what form this might take.

Turkish opinion polls suggest Yilmaz’s center-right Motherland Party is unlikely to cross the 10 percent threshold needed to enter the new parliament.

Yilmaz said Turkey was better prepared than many other candidate countries had been when they were invited to open EU accession negotiations and urged the European Commission not to apply different standards to his country.

"We expect the EU to make a fair comparison of the state of Turkey with the state of other candidate countries," he said.

The EU says Turkey needs to implement a range of reforms including abolition of the death penalty and boosting cultural rights of ethnic minorities before it can start talks.

Many Turks suspect the EU is not seriousabout admitting their large–mostly Muslim country of 68 million which stretches to the borders of Iran and Iraq.

But EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Thursday Brussels wanted to give a positive signal to Ankara at the December summit and help pro-EU politicians such as Yilmaz.

Ten mostly eastern European countries are set to close membership negotiations in December and to join the EU in 2004.

Yilmaz has called for a delay in Turkey’s general election until after the summit to allow more time to implement reforms.

EU leaders are acutely aware of Turkey’s strategic importance as a NATO ally as war clouds loom over neighboring Iraq.

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