EU Calls Emergency Talks as Austria Blocks Accord on Turkey

BRUSSELS (AFP)–The EU has called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to try to end an impasse over Turkey’s entry talks–as Austria insisted Ankara be offered less than full EU membership.

A 24-1 vote on Thursday meant ambassadors failed to agree on a mandate to start entry negotiations with Ankara. All 25 member states had to back the proposal before entry negotiations could begin.

The British EU presidency called the talks for Sunday–the day before the Turkey-EU talks are due to start.

"I can confirm that foreign ministers will meet on Sunday," said a British spokesman on Thursday. "Unfortunately it was not possible to agree [on] the negotiating framework today at [an] ambassadorial level–[but] efforts will continue."

EU leaders agreed last December to open talks with Turkey on October 3. But the relationship became strained in July when Ankara reaffirmed that it would not recognize member state Cyprus.

A dispute over how to respond to that was finally resolved last week–but the negotiating framework row will now be tackled at the emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers–probably over dinner in Luxembourg.

One EU official–speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity–explained that "the Austrians maintain their reservations about the negotiating framework."

"Their deman’s involve an alternative or interim solution to membership should the EU be unable to integrate Turkey or should Turkey not fulfill all the criteria," he said.

Turkey’s parliament speaker Bulent Arinc charged that Turkey was being provoked to walk away from the talks.

"It seems as if our patience is being tested. Looking at what is being done to Turkey one shows that there are some who hope to get rid of us by forcing us to walk away from the [negotiating] table," he said in an interview on Turkey’s NTV television.

Any hold up beyond Monday would be sure to further anger Turkey–which has had ties with the Union for more than 40 years but has seen its efforts to join consistently hampered.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has warned that he will turn his back on the talks if the negotiating framework contains "any formula or suggestion other than full membership."

Despite official denials–some diplomats allow that Austria’s stance on Turkey could be linked with Croatia’s hopes of starting EU talks–which depend on Zagreb’s cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel suggested as much in an interview in Thursday’s Financial Times newspaper.

"If we trust Turkey to make further progress we should trust Croatia too," he said. "It is in Europe’s interest to start negotiations with Croatia immediately."

Austria has been a strong supporter of Croatia’s efforts to join the bloc and four out of five Austrians oppose Turkey joining.

The EU official said a special EU task force would meet early on Monday with Carla Del Ponte–the head of the UN war crimes tribunal to discuss Croatia’s candidature.

That meeting would "probably be followed by a global decision on Turkey and Croatia during the morning," he affirmed.

A spokeswoman for the EU’s executive commission said the two candidacies were not linked from its point of view–but noted that: "The EU is ready to start accession negotiations with Croatia immediately once it has been established that full cooperation (with the tribunal) is there." The frustration in Brussels was palpable.

"Twenty-four member states could accept the agreement," said another EU diplomat. "It is not a question of re-drafting but a political issue … it’s not about a tweak here–a tweak there."

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