BRUSSELS (AFP)–Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union hit a new snag Monday when the EU decided not to open negotiations on economic and monetary policy, amid pressure from France.
The move–a brake on talks already set to run for at least a decade — is likely to ratchet up tensions with Ankara, which has already expressed anger over France’s hardline stance.
Germany had long planned to open talks with Turkey, by the end of its turn at the EU presidency on June 30, on three of the 35 accession chapters that all candidate countries must complete.
But diplomats confirmed that one chapter, or policy area, had been pulled from Monday’s agenda.
"The chapter on economic and monetary policy has been withdrawn from the agenda of the meeting of ambassadors," an EU diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.
An EU official confirmed that ambassadors from the 27 member states had given the green light for talks on the two other chapters — statistics and financial control — to begin Tuesday.
He would not confirm why the economic and monetary chapter was withdrawn.
"There’s no drama," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn assured, saying the opening of two more chapters was "a new step forward in the adhesion talks."
"Technically, Germany did not put it on the table. It was not worth putting on the agenda because there was no unanimity to open it," another official said, noting "French reservations" about the policy area.
There was no immediate comment from France, however since coming to power last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy affirmed his opposition to mainly-Muslim Turkey joining the EU.
Enlargement issues in the EU are decided by unanimity, which means that all 27 member states must endorse the opening and closure of negotiating areas and ultimately whether a candidate country should be allowed to join.
"I don’t think that Turkey has a place in the Union," he said during his first official visit to Brussels. Sarkozy has proposed instead that a Mediterranean Union be created which Ankara could be part of. But Turkey has strong support from Britain, and France confirmed that it would not force the issue until the more pressing issue of the EU’s failed constitution was resolved.
The Union agreed on Saturday the terms of a treaty of reforms to replace the constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands two years ago, in part due to concern about Turkey’s candidacy.
Monday’s move was the first real demonstration of Sarkozy’s opposition.
Turkey’s decades-long quest to join the EU has long been dogged by delay.
Member countries generally agree on the importance of encouraging reform in the mainly Muslim but secular country — led by a moderate Islamic government — which straddles Europe, the Middle East and the volatile Caucasus region.
But there are fears that relatively poor Turkey would be difficult to integrate — politically, economically and socially — and that it would win voting powers similar to EU heavyweights like Britain or Italy.
The EU froze talks in December with Turkey on eight of the 35 policy chapters because of Ankara’s on-going trade dispute with Cyprus.
It decided to continue discussion on chapters not linked to trade policy, but these may only be opened and not closed until the Cyprus problem is resolved.
In April, the EU and Turkey began talks on "enterprise and industry policy," only the second chapter Ankara has managed to open since "science and research" in June 2006.