Turkey faces fresh obstacle on rocky road to joining EU

6/30/2005 5:09:21 AM

THE European Commission raised a new obstruction to Turkey’s EU membership yesterday when it said that a key factor in the negotiations would be the existing union’s ability to absorb financially and politically the huge Muslim country.

Tabling a draft mandate for the talks, which are due to open on October 3, the Commission emphasised that enlargement should “strengthen the process of continuous creation and integration” in the EU and that “every effort should be made to protect the cohesion and effectiveness of the union”.

Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner, who will lead the negotiations for the EU, insisted that two key factors in this absorption capacity would be the budgetary consequences of Turkish membership and the impact its presence would have on the union’s ability to take decisions.

Critics maintain that the EU’s €100 billion (£67 billion) budget could not cope with the demands of such a large and relatively poor nation and that, as potentially the most populous member state, Turkey would upset the delicate balance of decision-making. They argue that a privileged partnership rather than full-blown membership would be more appropriate for Ankara.

Another factor will be public opinion, with Mr Rehn acknowledging that “we all know that it will be a long and difficult journey and we have to take account of the concerns of citizens”.

Public opposition to extending the EU into Asia has become more visible in recent months and was a key factor in French and Dutch rejection of the draft European constitution.

The mood was reflected in yesterday’s Commission discussion, which Mr Rehn said had been “a lengthy, argumentative and also very political debate”.

While acknowledging that the shared objective was Turkish entry into the EU, the draft mandate stated: “These negotiations are an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand”.

Mr Rehn said that the end destination was far from clear when he maintained that “the journey was as important as the outcome” since the negotiations would give impetus to the rule of law, respect for human rights and consolidation of a functioning market economy in Turkey.

The draft mandate, which EU governments may decide to make even tougher before agreeing to open the negotiations, contains specific provisions for long transitional periods, derogations and permanent safeguard clauses.

These could be applied to key policies such as agriculture, regional and social funding and the free movement of people, denying Turkey the full benefits of EU membership in these areas.

The negotiations are expected to run for at least a decade.