Expansion off The Agenda at EU Summit

(The Guardian)–European leaders will not discuss expansion of the EU to include Turkey or other countries at this week’s EU summit–it was confirmed on June 14.

Senior officials stressed that previous agreemen’s with Turkey and Croatia were still valid and that earlier EU decisions to expand to Romania and Bulgaria remained on track–but it will be the first time in many years that the issue has been dropped from an EU summit declaration. There will only be a single paragraph saying expansion was "necessary."

Analysts said the move was bound to send a negative signal to candidate countries–which have been braced for a backlash following the rejection of the European constitution by France and the Netherlands. Speaking during the weekend–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–brushed the matter aside.

"None of this has anything to do with us. Turkey is within the [European] boundary. We have not wasted our years for nothing," he said.

European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso–has tried to water down fears over expansion–saying it and the constitution "were not connected," but an increasing number of senior European politicians continue to express public doubts about the issue.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner–the EU’s external affairs commissioner–told the German newspaper Bild that enlargement of the EU should be slowed to give people time to digest the Dutch and French no votes.

"We need to give our citizens time to breathe. We must fulfill what we have said–but my idea is to reduce the speed of enlargement."

Austrian finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser–said that Turkish membership "would make excessive deman’s of Europe."

He said he saw the constitution’s rejection in France and the Netherlands as "a warning shot" in opposition to Turkey’s membership.

Polls in France and the Netherlands showed that opposition to Turkey’s membership was one of the key reasons voters gave for opposing the European constitution.

Diplomats in Luxembourg–where EU foreign ministers are meeting–confirmed that several paragraphs on expansion to include Turkey and other candidates were being dropped in the latest draft of the declaration due to be issued at the end of this week’s summit in Brussels.

At a summit in December last year–EU leaders set a conditional October 3 date to open entry talks with Turkey–if it carried through on commitmen’s to implement economic and political reforms–and if it expanded its customs union to include Cyprus.

The Dutch foreign minister–Ben Bot–however–continued to back the EU’s official position that entry talks would go ahead as planned.

"They are on track. If the Turks are on track then we are on track," he said.

In a move aimed at reassuring the Turks and the financial markets that the expansion process had not be derailed–EU foreign ministers approved an agreement today that will adapt its customs union with Turkey.

EU foreign ministers endorsed the protocol without discussion–sending it to Turkey for signature. Once it has signed the accord–Ankara will have met all the conditions set by the EU for opening membership talks.

Turkey’s top EU negotiator–Ali Babacan–has said the country will sign the document as soon as it receives it.

The foreign ministers also agreed today to review Croatia’s progress towards starting membership talks in mid-July in the light of its cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal on locating a key fugitive suspect.

They noted in a statement that the chief war crimes prosecutor–Carla Del Ponte–had welcomed some progress by Zagreb but said it was still not fully cooperating with the Hague tribunal on the former Yugoslavia.

"There is an agreement that the review will be in July," an official of Luxembourg’s EU presidency said–though some states – led by Britain–say Croatia must locate and hand over Ante Gotovina before the EU can start delayed accession talks.

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