BRUSSELS (Reuter)Turkey was given the bluntest notice to date Tuesday that it would be locked out of the European Union as leading centrist EU politicians spoke out firmly against its membership.
Senior politicians said there had been consensus at a meeting of the mainly Christian Democrat European People’s Party (EPP) that Turkey was not qualified to join.
"Turkey is not a candidate to become a member of the European Union–short-term or long," former Belgian Prime Minister and EPP president Wilfried Martens said.
He said the meetingwhich had included German Chancellor Helmut Kohl–Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodihad expressed a desire for a close relationship with Ankara.
But membership of the EU was not on the cards. "We want the closest cooperation possible but we are building a European Union," Martens said.
Others were less blunt–but still indicated that Ankara was a long way from seeing its dream of full integration into Europe fulfilled.
"It was unanimous against Turkish membership," Prodi told Italian reporters. "But Turkey is an important countrynot just militarily but economically."
Prodi said Kohl had also told the meeting that Turkey could not become a member of the EU.
EU sources said the issue had been raised at the meeting because Turkey–which has threatened to block NATO enlargement unless it is allowed into the EU–had been putting huge pressure on EU governmen’s over the past week or so.
Portuguese opposition leader Marcelo Reblo de Sousa said the meeting had refused to bow to Turkish threats.
"One idea that dominated this meeting was a commitment not to accept blackmail whatsoever," he told Portuguese reporters.
He said the political leaders had doubts about Turkey’s commitment to human rights. "Human rights are very far from being respected in Turkey. It doesn’t make sense to accept a country that doesn’t respect them," he said.
The move is likely to infuriate Ankara–which is already sensitive about commen’s earlier this year from Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo that there were unspoken questions in the EU about bringing in a large Moslem state.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and others–however–emphasized that the EU should have a special relationship with Turkey and should provide various aid packages that have been promised to Ankara. Some aid has been blocked by the European Parliament because of human rights concerns.
Turkey signed an association agreement with what is now the European Union in 1963 and formally applied to join the bloc in 1987. The European Commission later ruled that Turkey was not ready on economic and democratic grounds.
Since then–a stream of central and eastern European countries have overtaken Turkey in the queue to join the EU and Ankara has put pressure on the bloc to accept its application.
Turkey was undaunted Wednesday after the snub.
"Our message is the same. Turkey should be part of the extension of the EU. We have given this message before and we will give it again," foreign ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli told a news conference.
Ankara said it had not received the same message through official channels. p>