Germans French Lead Hostility against Turkey EU Membership

Austria and Cyprus Pose New Obstacles

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–European Union president Britain fended off Austrian and Cypriot attempts on Monday to raise new hurdles to Turkey’s bid to open EU membership talks–while a survey showed a majority of Europeans opposed Ankara’s entry.

The Eurobarometer survey–published by the EU’s executive European Commission–showed 52 percent of people in the 25-nation bloc opposed Turkish membership and that only 35 percent were in favor.

Hostility was strongest in Western Europe. Only 32 percent in the 15 old West European member states supported Turkish accession. The Austrians (80 percent)–Germans (74 percent)–and the French (70 percent) were the most hostile.

Opposition to Turkey has grown by 24 percentage points in Austria–20 in Germany–and six in France since the Eurobarometer survey last asked the question in 2002.

After EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn briefed the bloc’s 25 foreign ministers on the proposed draft negotiating mandate for talks with Ankara–Austria and Cyprus voiced familiar objections–diplomats said.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was not the right moment to discuss the issue–promising ministers they would have a substantial discussion at an informal meeting in Wales in early September.

Despite public opinion–EU leaders committed themselves last December–and again in June–to open membership negotiations with Turkey–and voters would have their say once there was an accession treaty to ratify–said Straw.

Austria Questions Turkish Bid

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnick said the EU should not rule out alternatives to full membership and asked why the Commission was planning to publish its next report on Turkey’s progress only after the talks started.

She also questioned the EU’s capacity to absorb such a large and economically backward country.

"We have always thought it would be smart to explicitly spell out an alternative," Plassnick told a news conference. "We stress the issue of [the EU’s] absorption capacity accordingly."

But Plassnick did not endorse the views of Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser–who said in an interview with Britain’s Financial Times newspaper and Austria’s Der Standard that the EU should postpone entry talks with Turkey and consider Balkan membership hopefuls instead.

Grasser–a right-wing maverick–voiced similar views before EU leaders took the decision last December to open negotiations with Turkey. Nevertheless–the Austrian government went along with the EU decision.

Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iakovou demanded to know what conditions Turkey would put on signing a protocol extending its EU customs union to the 10 new member states which joined last year–including Cyprus.

Ankara is expected to sign the document in the next few weeks but has said it will make clear the act is not tantamount to recognition of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Turkey has kept 35,000 troops in Northern Cyprus since it invaded the east Mediterranean island in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia–engineered by Greece’s then ruling military junta.

Diplomats said that while no foreign minister made an explicit link–some had said it would be difficult for them if the EU opened negotiations with Turkey before starting talks with Croatia–whose membership bid has been stymied by its failure to arrest and hand over a wanted war crimes suspect.

Straw said the two cases were not linked–but he pledged an EU task force would review Croatia’s record again in September to see whether it had cooperated sufficiently with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague to warrant starting talks.

The Eurobarometer poll of 29,328 voters in the 25 EU member states was conducted by TNS Opinion and Social between May 9 and June 14–spanning the period in which France and the Netherlands rejected a planned EU constitution in referendums.

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