BRUSSELS (Reuter)-Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo said Tuesday that the time had come for the European Union to come clean with neighbor and NATO ally Turkey and tell it why it did not pass muster for EU membership.
Speaking to a European Parliament committee on behalf of the Dutch EU presidency–van Mierlo said Europe faced difficulties in fully embracing Turkey–ranging for Ankara’s human rights record to the country’s religious make up.
But no one was being open about the hurdles.
"There is a problem of a large Moslem state. Do we want that in Europe? It is an unspoken question," van Mierlo said.
Turkey signed an association agreement with what is now the European Union as long ago as 1963. It formally applied to join the bloc in 1987.
The European Commission–which reviews countries’ membership applications–ruled that Turkey was not ready on both economic and democratic grounds.
Since then–however–the Berlin Wall has fallen and a stream of central and eastern European countries–including Poland– Hungary and the Czech republic–have been promised eventual membership.
Formal negotiations with as many as 11 candidate countries-but not Turkey-are due to start around the end of this year.
Van Mierlo said he could understand the frustration Turkey must feel in being an early applicant and then sitting back and seeing country after country jump past it in the queue.
"It is time for us in Europe to be honest," he said. "On the one hand it (Turkey) does not fulfill the yardsticks that we have set in Europe. On the other it is a neighbor (we want to keep close)."
Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller has said that Ankara could block NATO enlargement into eastern Europe if it was not allowed to join the EU.
Van Mierlo said he took the threat seriously–but not literally.
"From Turkey we always hear statemen’s that we don’t like," he said–adding that the same went for commen’s from some EU members.
The EU’s relations with Turkey are complicated by Ankara’s long-standing rivalry with Greece–which blocked an EU-Turkey customs agreement for years until a deal was struck putting Athens-ally Cyprus on a fast-track for membership.
The EU’s "Big Five" powers-Britain–France–Germany–Italy and Spain-met Ciller in Rome last week to talk over relations between Ankara and the EU. The emphasized that there were "no obstacles in principle" to Turkey’s future membership.
Western officials are keen to avoid having Turkey’s Islamic- led government turn its back on Europe.