Merkel Seeks Tougher Line on Turkey’s EU Membership Bid

BERLIN–German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to impose tougher conditions on Turkey’s European Union membership bid than the partial freeze on membership talks proposed last week by the European Commission, officials confirmed on Monday. Merkel not only backs calls by the commission to break off talks on eight negotiating chapters but also wants to make resuming any negotiations far more difficult, the officials said. The European Commission last week called for a partial suspension of Turkey’s negotiations towards EU membership after Ankara refused to open its harbors and airports to ships and planes from EU member Cyprus. Merkel wants a stronger response by imposing a so-called "revision clause" on Turkey, said government spokesman Thomas Steg. This would mean that even if Turkey complies with EU deman’s and opens its harbors and airports to Cyprus there would be no automatic resumption of membership negotiations. Instead, all of the EU’s future 27 members (Bulgaria and Romania are due to join on January 1) would have to vote unanimously to resume talks with Ankara. The German leader strongly opposes Turkish EU membership and instead calls for Ankara to be given what she terms a "privileged partnership." Merkel is expected to discuss Turkey’s EU bid with French President Jacques Chirac and Polish President Lech Kaczynski at a summit Tuesday in the western German town of Mettlach. A final decision on action aimed at Turkey is expected at the EU’s Brussels summit on December 14 and 15. France, Greece and Cyprus back Merkel’s bid to toughen terms for Turkish EU talks. But the move is likely to be opposed by Britain and the Nordic countries as well as Italy, Spain and the European Commission, said diplomats in Brussels. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, on a visit to Greece, urged the EU to leave the door open for Turkey’s attempt to join the bloc. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned it would be a "serious mistake" to send Turkey a negative message on its bid to join the EU. Last Wednesday the commission said talks should be frozen on eight Turkish negotiating chapters including transport, trade, agriculture and external relations. "Turkey has undoubtedly made progress. But it has still not implemented all obligations it has agreed to," said Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Opinion polls show a majority of Europeans are opposed to Turkish EU entry given worries about immigration and the integration of Europe’s Muslim minorities. But Britain, backed by Spain and Italy, believes Turkey’s accession to the EU will reinforce the bloc’s standing in the Islamic world and help dispel any idea of a clash of civilizations. Finland, which holds the current EU presidency, has been struggling for several months to strike a compromise deal allowing free trade through Famagusta in Turkish Cyprus in exchange for a move by Turkey to open its ports and harbors to Greek Cypriot traffic. Ankara insisted, however, that the EU must first lift its trade embargo on Turkish northern Cyprus, whose government is not recognized by the EU. Turkey has not established diplomatic ties with the Republic of Cyprus, which became a member of the EU in 2004. Discussions on reuniting the island–divided since 1974–are under way at the United Nations. Greek Cypriots in 2004 voted against an UN-backed reunification plan, which was endorsed by Turkish Cypriots. Ankara and the EU opened membership negotiations last year but have only clinched agreement on the relatively uncontroversial chapter on science and research. Countries seeking EU entry have to bring their legislation in line with the bloc’s rules in 35 areas. Negotiations on Turkish membership are expected to last at least 15 years.

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