BRUSSELS (REUTERS)–France won a symbolic victory on Monday when it prevented the European Union from using the word ‘accession’ in a statement on Turkey’s talks with the bloc.
A foreign ministers’ statement on EU enlargement strategy omitted the words ‘accession’ or ‘membership’ in connection with Turkey, saying instead they looked forward to ‘intergovernmental conferences’ with Turkey and Croatia later this month.
Ankara began negotiations for membership in 2005 but French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly said Turkey has no place in Europe and should be offered what he calls a privileged partnership.
Britain, Sweden and other supporters of Ankara’s bid wanted the 27-nation Union to renew its commitment to admit Turkey if it meets all the membership criteria but yielded after a short debate, diplomats said.
"We do not see any rationale for backtracking either on the Treaty of Rome or on these commitmen’s," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters before the meeting. "There is a very firm majority in the EU for the position being conducted so far."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also said the EU should not back away from its previous resolutions.
"We recall well the conclusions the European Council (summit) reached last year and we think it’s important that the European Union fulfill its responsibilities towards Turkey, but also that Turkey continues the reform process that is an important part of its passage to the European Union," he said.
Portuguese diplomats said they had made concessions on the wording to France to keep the negotiations going, arguing that the formula did not call into question the EU’s unanimous commitment to Turkey that the aim of the talks is membership.
The EU statement set out a series of criticisms of Turkey after welcoming the strengthening of democracy in the resolution of this year’s constitutional crisis triggered when the army opposed the election of a former Islamist as president.
"Significant further efforts are also needed in other areas such as judicial reform, the fight against corruption, minority rights and strengthening of cultural rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, trade union rights and the civilian control of the military," the statement said.
Ankara’s Ambassador to the EU, Vulkan Bozkir, told Reuters the wrangling in the bloc over restating a basic commitment would only deepen disenchantment in Turkey, reducing Brussels’ influence in reshaping the country.
"We are heartbroken and tired of waiting," Bozkir said. "The EU has lost its leverage on Turkey. It has used up all its ammunition except for stopping the negotiations totally."
He said Turkish public opinion was no longer listening to EU criticism of Ankara’s performance on reform, including human rights and religious freedom, because it had lost confidence that the EU really wanted Turkey as a member.