17th Jul 2019

Austria moots alternative to Turkish EU membership

  • Vienna prefers a loose "Turkish-European partnership" (Photo: EUobserver)

On the eve of a key foreign ministers' meeting on Turkey, Austria has said it wants a loose partnership with Ankara to be explicitly mentioned as an alternative to full Turkish EU membership.

Turkey will dominate the agenda at the informal gathering in Newport, Wales, tomorrow and Friday (1 and 2 September).

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Member states have in principle agreed that talks with Ankara should start on 3 October.

The European Commission formulated the draft negotiating terms before the summer, which state the eventual aim of full-fledged EU membership of Turkey.

However, the negotiating mandate has to be approved by member states unanimously.

Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik yesterday (30 August) stated in a letter to her EU colleagues that the mandate should include an explicit mention of "a specific alternative to EU membership".

Vienna’s alternative would mean a looser "Turkish-European partnership".

Ms Plassnik wrote that "Such a partnership would constitute a more realistic goal in the middle term, for Turkey as well as for the EU member states, without excluding the perspective of full membership".

She added that the partnership scenario needed to be "expressed clearer".

The Austrian move follows recent pressure on Turkey by France, which has questioned Turkey’s readiness to start entry talks because of Ankara’s continuing refusal to recognise EU member state Cyprus.

But Paris is unlikely to veto the opening of talks as such, not least because Cyprus itself does not demand immediate recognition by the Turks.

Rather, the French government has signalled it wants to leave alternatives to EU membership open, in the same vein as Vienna.

French Europe minister Catherine Colonna stated in a speech yesterday (30 August) according to the FT that "When it comes to Turkey, its future with the EU - accession or another solution - can only be written at the end of a long process".

The scenario of open-ended talks with Ankara, with fully-fledged membership as just one option, has gained more weight following political developments in Germany.

German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel, who is likely to win elections on 18 September, opposes Turkish membership and has proposed a "privileged partnership" instead.

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