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050530|AFP|French EU ’non’ muddies the waters for Turkey
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May 30 2005 | AFP | Ankara

French EU ’non’ muddies the waters for Turkey

Turkey put on a brave face Monday after France rejected the EU constitution, but analysts warned that the crisis the European bloc faces raises new obstacles and blurs Ankara’s membership prospects.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul ruled out any impact by the French vote on the European Union’s decision to begin accession talks with Turkey on October

"This referendum has no direct link with Turkey. There is no obstacle for us to start the talks," Gul told Turkish journalists during a visit to Bahrain, the Anatolia news agency reported.

"We will continue our democratic and economic reforms even with greater determination," he said. "Everything concerning October 3 is in our hands."

The vote in France is believed to have been swayed at least in part by strong public opposition to Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim and relatively poor country of 71 million, joining the EU.

The Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that the outcome was related "not to Turkey’s membership, but France’s own internal dynamics," and emphasized that Ankara remains focused on its preparations for accession talks.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country takes over the EU’s presidency in July, telephoned Gul in Manama and assured him that the French vote would not affect the schedule of Turkey-EU talks, sources close to Gul told Anatolia.

Turkish Economy Minister Ali Babacan, named chief negotiator for the accession talks last week, said Ankara would be patient and stick to its membership target.

"In our long negotiation process, different political currents may be seen in some countries," Babacan said. "Every stage to be completed in the talks will raise Turkey’s standards higher."

However, analysts warned the negotiations might follow a much harder course than Turkey expects, with the country’s opponents gaining strength in major EU countries.

"Technically speaking, the result of the French referendum cannot alter the beginning of accession negotiations with Turkey," EU specialist Cengiz Aktar told AFP.

"However, it will exacerbate the already negative symbolism of Turkey’s candidacy in France by further isolating president (Jacques) Chirac who is practically the only French political figure to clearly support Turkey’s membership," he said.

Rejection of the EU constitution, he said, is "a negative message to the entire enlargement philosophy and goes well beyond Turkey’s candidacy."

Beril Dedeoglu, an international relations expert at Istanbul’s Galatsaray University, drew attention to the rising popularity of Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac’s main political rival and a favorite for the 2007 presidential elections, who is opposed to Turkey’s EU membership.

"Sarkozy’s coming to power will raise a serious obstacle for Turkey," she said of the former interior and finance minister winning the French presidency.

Ankara was already rattled by the prospect of losing a solid supporter when German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder moved earlier this month to call snap elections after losing badly to the Christian Democrats in a key state vote.

Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel -- who will challenge Schroeder in the vote expected in September -- is fiercely opposed to Turkey’s EU membership and advocates a special relationship for the country with the bloc.

Fears are rife here that if the Christian Democrats come to power in Germany, they will try to prolong Turkey’s accession talks and water down its prospect of full membership.

"The Merkel-Sarkozy axis may create serious troubles for Turkey," Dedeoglu said. "Accession negotiations may start, but closing each chapter (of the talks) will become a real headache for Ankara."

The left-leaning daily Cumhuriyet commented Monday that "the failure of Turkey’s supporters at local elections in Germany, followed by their failure in France, also signifies defeat for Turkey."

Despite the misgivings, Aktar saw a silver lining in the outcome of the French referendum.

"European policy makers will be now forced to salvage the EU, which in turn could create a new momentum for ’more Europe’ in which Turkey would find its place," he said.

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