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050628|TimesOnline|Call for EU to halt its talks with Turkey
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28 June 2005 | Times Online | Anthony Browne

Eleventh-hour call for EU to halt its talks with Turkey

NICOLAS SARKOZY, the French Interior Minister and a possible future president, has demanded that the European Union close its doors to Turkey, just three months before the entry talks with the Muslim country are due to start.

M Sarkozy called for the “suspension” of future EU enlargement while the union sorts out its internal political crisis by revamping its institutions.

The swipe at Turkey will heighten tensions between France and Britain, which has taken the lead in championing Turkish membership of the EU and which will host the start of the membership talks in October 3. The remarks also brought a swift retort from the German Government, which said that the EU must stick by its commitments.

Turkey’s impending membership of the union has met widespread popular opposition in many mainland European countries, and is thought to be one of the main reasons that people rejected the constitution in France and the Netherlands. Since the referendums, a growing number of French and other EU politicians have questioned Turkey’s membership, but M Sarkozy has dramatically upped the ante by calling openly for the whole process to be suspended.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, is so alarmed at the growing sound of rejection from across the EU that he gave a warning that it would be unacceptable for the EU to change the entry rules.

The European Commission, the EU executive, will agree the “framework” tomorrow for the negotiations, detailing all the principles, issues and rules for the membership talks, which are expected to take at least ten years, leading to Turkish entry in about 2015. This “negotiating framework” has to be approved by all member states before talks can start in October.

EU officials believe that the talks will start on time, but are increasingly concerned that they may be derailed. The month before the talks start, the German elections are widely expected to be won by Angela Merkel, the Opposition leader in Germany, who has called for Turkish membership to be blocked.

After a meeting with Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister, M Sarkozy said that the enlargement process must be “suspended, until the [EU] institutions have been renovated. Europe must have borders.” He said that the only exceptions should be Bulgaria and Romania, which are due to join the EU in 18 months’ time and have already become embedded in the Brussels political machinery. As well as Turkey, the other countries affected include Croatia, Bosnia and Ukraine.

Many EU analysts and diplomats believe that the referendums made it inevitable that the Turkish entry process would be killed off, but the demise could be slow since no politician wants to be accused of being the assassin.

There is growing speculation that France, or another country, will try to impose new conditions on Turkey as a way of blocking its entry.

Mr Erdogan said in a TV interview: “If you impose new conditions on candidate countries, especially a country which is about to start negotiations, that would not be right. Turkey is not in a position to renegotiate anything. The [EU] process will continue as it has until today. It is not possible for us to approve a different development.” Many EU citizens are concerned about immigration from the poor Muslim nation of 70 million people, which is almost entirely in Asia. Its population is growing by one million people a year, which means that by the time it joins the EU, it will be the most populous member, giving it a bigger voting weight than any other country including Germany.

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