France scores symbolic victory against Turkish EU membership
By Honor Mahony
France has scored a symbolic victory in its battle against Turkey joining the European Union by succeeding in removing the word 'accession' from an EU document on the state of negotiations.
A statement on the EU's enlargement strategy, agreed by foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (11 December), refers only to an intergovernmental conference with Turkey and Croatia later this month, rather than to accession or membership negotiations.
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The normal phrasing for these meeting to discuss progress on membership negotiations is "accession conferences."
But France, strongly opposed to Turkey joining the EU, got its way yesterday after putting diplomatic pressure on for around two weeks before the meeting.
Britain and Sweden were amongst the countries that were against the French move.
"We do not see any rationale for backtracking either on the Treaty of Rome or on these commitments," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said before the meeting, according to Reuters.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy has made no secret of his staunch opposition to Ankara's membership bid.
It featured during his presidential campaign in the first half of 2007 while after his election Mr Sarkozy suggested Turkey become a member of a Mediterranean Union he wants to set up and that the EU's final borders are discussed in a wise committee - both suggestions are seen as part of an overall aim to derail Turkey's bid.
Germany is also against Turkish EU membership, but has been less vocal at the European level on the issue than France.
It prefers instead a privileged partnership - essentially granting Ankara closer ties with the EU but no decision-making powers.
Turkey opened membership talks with the EU in 2005. But it has only made small progress so far. Talks have been blocked in a number of areas because of Ankara's position on Cyprus - it refuses to trade with it - while France has blocked the opening of talks in areas that smack too much of leading to EU membership.
Turkey itself has also been slow to undertake internal democratic reforms, which has led to criticism from the EU side.
For its part, the European Commission continues to defend membership negotiations with Turkey, arguing that member states should not renege on their commitments to see through the negotiation process.
"Concerning Turkey I'm looking forward to the opening of more chapters at the accession conference next week," said EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn on Monday.
"We are working on the basis of the negotiation framework of October 2005, and the accession process continues with Turkey. It is in the EU's own interest for Turkey to continue with reforms in order to fulfil the accession criteria and to maintain its strategic orientation towards the EU."