Turkey Still Sends ‘Mixed Picture’ Says EU Commissioner for Enlargement

BRUSSELS (AA)–The European Union’s Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said EU leaders might not give an unconditional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to starting accession talks with Turkey when they meet late next year to discuss Ankara’s membership bid.

"It is open what recommendation we will make next year," Verheugen told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine.

"But I do not accept that the only options are an unconditional yes or no. We will not shrink from an uncomfortable recommendation if necessary."

The European Union Commission–the top EU executive body–is scheduled to publish an annual report on November 5 on Turkey’s preparations.

Another report due out late next year will subsequently form the basis of the scheduled December 2004 meeting of EU leaders on whether to start accession talks.

If the decision is positive–they could begin in 2005.

Turkey–a mainly Muslim country which has been an EU candidate since 1999–is the only one among 13 would-be member states yet to start membership talks with the bloc.

Verheugen noted that though Turkey is undertaking significant political reforms–he nevertheless pointed to other issues where Ankara remained below EU standards–notably human rights–particularly torture–religious freedom and the role of the military in Turkish political life.

He said the opportunity for "really ground-breaking reform" was bigger than ever. "We have a government [in Turkey] that is grasping for reform as a goal in itself–independent of a rapprochement with Europe."

Verheugen warned Ankara not to use talks over the future of divided Cyprus as a lever with which to get into the European Union.

At the same time–he said the continued presence of Turkish soldiers in the Turkish Cypriot-ruled part of the Mediterranean island could influence public opinion against Turkey’s membership.

Cyprus–divided since 1974–is due to become an EU member in May next year–but failure to reach a UN-sponsored political settlement before then will see only the Greek Cypriots benefit from EU accession–while the Turkish Cypriot north remains out in the cold.

VATICAN SAYS EU IS NOT A CHRISTIAN CLUB

The Italian ANSA news service reported that the Vatican does not object to Turkey’s accession into the EU–as it does not view the Union as a sort of club for Christian nations only–according to the Holy See’s Nuncio to Ankara Edmond Farhat.

But it would like to see Turkey institute reforms in personal and religious freedoms before joining the EU–Turkey’s NTV channel quoted Farhat as saying.

The Nuncio said that the Vatican’s greatest concern is that Turkey has still not officially recognized Christianity.

The Vatican diplomat’s statement came a few days after the Turkish press quoted an anonymous EU Commission member as saying that if Ankara wanted to press ahead with its membership bid–it needed to convince the Vatican first.

According to the source–the Vatican has great influence on many leaders of EU member states.

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