EU to Up Turkey Aid Sets Tough Deman’s

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The European Commission proposed on Wednesday doubling aid to Turkey over the next three years but said its EU candidacy would be jeopardized if it intervened in Iraq or used the crisis to halt political reforms.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen told a news conference Turkey must do more to eradicate torture–promote cultural rights for minorities–a code phrase for Kurds–and enforce civilian control over the military.

"I would like to point out to Turkey that we see deficits in implementation at the moment–both in fighting torture and in implementing cultural rights–freedom of expression and also religious freedom," he said.

"It would be fatal if the Iraq situation were to lead to the reform process being suspended or even moving backwards," Verheugen said.

"If there were to be some kind of invasion or crossing the border (into Iraq)–this would have serious consequences on relations with the EU," he added.

Turkey has said it may send troops into northern Iraq to supplement a smaller Turkish force long in place there. Trucks and armor are standing ready on the frontier.

The Commission listed strict political and economic terms that Turkey must meet by December 2004 to win a recommendation from the EU executive to open entry talks.

Pre-accession assistance would be more than doubled to 1.05 billion euros ($1.12 billion) in 2004-2006–reaching 500 million euros a year in 2006 if the 15 member states agree.

Although the increased aid is not explicitly tied to conditions–Verheugen said it was subject to annual programming "so there’s no risk of these funds being firmly committed and thereby contradicting our political aims."

CYPRUS–MILITARY OBSTACLES

Among the political priorities listed is strong support for diplomatic efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus–which is due to join the European Union next year.

The United Nations blamed Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash–and his backers in Ankara–for the collapse of peace efforts earlier this month.

Verheugen said the EU report was a clear signal that Turkey needed to revisit the issue between the end of the Iraq war and the December 2004 decision on its membership negotiations.

The role of the politically powerful military in Turkey was completely out of line with the position of the armed forces in all EU member states–he said.

In a phrase that may offend many Turks–he said that position must change "so that the government and parliament in Turkey control the military rather than the military controlling the government and parliament."

The Commission said Turkey should adopt a revised national programme to bring its legislation into line with EU standards.

This would involve measures to eradicate torture and improve legal and practical guarantees for prisoners–reform the justice system–expand media freedom and guarantee freedom of association–religion and peaceful assembly.

EU leaders promised last December to open accession talks without delay if Turkey met the same political and economic criteria applied to all candidate countries.

Ankara has suffered a series of setbacks in the last month with the collapse of the Cyprus talks–the outlawing of the main Kurdish political party and tension over Iraq.

But Verheugen–noting that Turkey–though larger–received far less money from Brussels than central European candidate Poland–said he saw no reason to withhold EU aid.

"I don’t think Turkey has given us grounds to put the pre-accession process on ice. A decision to stop this process would have sent totally the wrong signal to Turkey," he said.

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