Austrian President Questions EU’s Readiness for Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) The European Union is not ready to accept Turkey as a member and needs more time to assimilate into the countries of central and eastern Europe–a Turkish newspaper today quoted Austria’s new president as saying on Tuesday.

Turkey has won praise from Brussels for a flurry of liberal political and legal reforms that have boosted its hopes of winning a date at a December EU summit to start entry talks. But any one of the 25 member states could veto the opening of talks.

Heinz Fischer–who takes office on July 8–told Turkey’s Aksam daily he personally favors Turkey’s eventual membership into EU–but said this was not the right time to begin negotiations.

"We are talking about a large country of 70 million people.

Turkey can change the balances within the EU. It can turn everything upside down,” Aksam quoted Fischer as saying.

”The question which must be asked is not only whether Turkey is ready for the EU but whether the EU is ready for Turkey.

”I say clearly–we cannot yet bear [the strain] of Turkey joining,” said Fischer–a Social Democrat.

The EU admitted 10 new members including Poland–Hungary–the Czech Republic and the divided island of Cyprus on May 1. It aims to take in Bulgaria and Romania in 2007–and Croatia is also about to begin accession talks.

”It is difficult to say whether Turkey will be given a date ]in December],” Fischer said.

Financial markets are watching closely Ankara’s preparations for December–believing failure to open negotiations could undermine the center-right government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and derail Turkey’s strong economic recovery.

At a summit in Brussels last week–EU leaders repeated their praise for Turkey’s reforms and urged Erdogan to keep up his reformist momentum. If launched–the entry talks are expected to last many years.

Turkey–a secular but overwhelmingly Muslim country–has been knocking on the EU’s door since 1963. It became an official candidate in 1999 but has yet to open entry talks due to concerns over its human rights record.

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