Austria Says to Wait for EU Turkey report

VIENNA (Reuters)–Austria’s foreign ministry stuck by a wait-and-see position on Friday on Turkish membership in the European Union–after Vienna’s finance minister said he opposed starting membership talks with Ankara.

A foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment directly on remarks by Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser–a former member of Joerg Haider’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO).

"The position of the foreign ministry is the old one–that we have to wait first for the Commission report on Turkey and only then can a decision be made," the spokesman’said.

The EU executive is due to recommend next month whether Turkey has made sufficient progress on democracy–human rights and the rule of law to open accession talks next year. Austria’s centre-right government coalition–which includes Haider’s FPO–has long been reserved about Ankara’s bid.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel–whose conservative People’s Party dominates the two-party coalition–on Friday said the issue must still be discussed thoroughly. "The discussion is just beginning," Schuessel told a news conference–before Grasser spoke at a meeting of EU finance ministers in the Netherlands.

"I think Turkey’s membership of the EU would not be helpful. I am amazed that in the debate going on in Europe that practically no one has the courage to say that openly," Grasser told reporters. Grasser–who is now an independent–said Turkey was "certainly not ready for Europe."

EU diplomats said in June that Austria had tried to water down the EU’s commitment to open entry talks with Turkey. The effort–which was rebuffed–came when EU ambassadors prepared a draft declaration ahead of the 25-nation bloc’s summit in June.

Polls have consistently found a majority of Austrians against Turkey entering the EU.

A survey in May in the news magazine Format found 56 percent of those polled said they could not imagine Turkey in the EU–26 percent said they saw it as possible and 13 percent could imagine full Turkish membership.

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