EU snub provokes Turkey to hit back

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Turkey yesterday lashed out at the European Union, which snubbed it at the Luxembourg summit over the weekend. The Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, dismissed an invitation to attend an EU conference on enlargement next year, which had been offered as a substitute for membership talks.

"Turkey's attendance at the EU conference has been made dependent on the fulfilment of conditions," Mr Yilmaz said yesterday. "This invitation does not have any importance for us."

"We will not accept any conditions." he told reporters after a two-hour emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the outcome of the Luxembourg meeting.

A state minister subsequently said that this meant Turkey would not attend the European Conference in Britain next March. The conference will launch the group towards its biggest-ever expansion.

EU leaders proclaimed "the dawn of a new era" after a historic two-day summit ended on Saturday, taking the first step towards opening the bloc's doors to the countries of former Communist-ruled Eastern Europe. They invited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia as well as Cyprus into membership negotiations starting on 31 March and promised that negotiations with five others - Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania - could begin as soon as they were deemed ready. All 11 will be invited to a ceremonial launch of the enlargement process on 30 March.

Turkey, an applicant to join the EU since 1963, managed to secure recognition for the first time of its "eligibility for accession to the European Union". But an invitation to Ankara to take part in a standing European conference where joint approaches to such questions as drug trafficking could be agreed did little to allay Turkish suspicions of a firm snub.

Ankara's anger both at being left out of the enlargement process and at being accused of human rights abuses by the Luxembourg Prime Minister who hosted the summit has soured relations to the point where Turkey could now complicate the launch of negotiations with Cyprus.

In another sign of trouble on the horizon, squabbles over the cost of expanding the EU erupted just hours after the invitations were extended. Summit leaders had to abandon draft conclusions on a sweeping package of reform to the bloc's hugely expensive regional and farm supports after a clash between Spain, representing the poorer regions, and Germany, leading the "paymasters".

Backing proposals to carry out enlargement without spending more money but with the help of radical farm policy reform, Tony Blair - who assumes the EU presidency in two weeks time - warned "we cannot seriously maintain the CAP [Common Agriculture Policy] in its present form and enlarge the European Union".