Turkey plays the spectre at feast for the new enlarged Europe

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THE LEADERS of the 26 present and aspiring members of the European Union yesterday celebrated the impending launch of EU enlargement, only to find the lavish affair dominated by Turkey, the country that refused to attend the party.

The first European Conference, two-and-a-half hours of choreographed confabulation on either side of a state luncheon hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, was above all symbolic, marking what the European Commission President, Jacques Santer, called a "historic chance" to unite Europe for the first time in 500 years.

But from the potential stumbling block of Cyprus to the conference's one substantial decision, to step up co-operation in the fight against illegal drugs trafficking, the ghost of Turkey, which refused to come after being excluded from even the second wave of candidate countries, dogged proceedings.

An offer from Glavkos Clerides, President of the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot republic, to include Turkish Cypriots in the team which is scheduled to open negotiations with Brussels at the end of this month, appeared doomed to rejection, as it failed to meet Ankara's demand for prior recognition of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, the statelet headed by Rauf Denktash.

EU foreign ministers will make another attempt to bridge the gap when they meet informally in Edinburgh today and tomorrow. But if they fail to do so, Cyprus may turn into an obstacle that conceivably could wreck the entire enlargement process.

Britain insists that, failing an agreement, accession talks should none the less start with the Clerides government.

France, however, feels that the exercise would be pointless if the Turkish Cypriots were absent and an overall Cyprus settlement had not been achieved.

But if the French have their way and EU discussions with Cyprus are put on ice, then Greece might retaliate by blocking the start of entry talks with the other five first-round candidates - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia.

Negotiations with Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania will begin at a later unspecified date.

The absence of Turkey removed much of the point of this drugs initiative by the EU, given that Turkey's position between Asia and Europe makes it a key conduit for hard drugs like opium and heroin from the Far East and the former Soviet republics of central Asia.

Having failed with every blandishment to lure the Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, to yesterday's summit, the EU can but hope Ankara swiftly changes its mind. The invitation was "genuinely meant", Tony Blair insisted yesterday.

The conference was a "great political occasion", President Jacques Chirac told his colleagues, "I have only one regret, the absence of Turkey. Turkey has a place among us."

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, has urged Ankara to turn aside from a row over Turkey's bid to join the EU and to look to its future which, he said, was inconceivable without Europe. He also rejected Turkish accusations that Germany wanted the EU to be an exclusively "Christian club".

But Mr Yilmaz seems to have decided otherwise, and blames Germany above all for the impasse, accusing it of insisting on a "Christian Europe," in which it might acquire more "Lebensraum" to the East. That reference to the Nazi justification for the extra territories it seized in the Second World War has especially infuriated Bonn.

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, has urged Ankara to turn aside from a row over Turkey's bid to join the EU and to look to its future which, he said, was inconceivable without Europe. He also rejected Turkish accusations that Germany wanted the EU to be an exclusively "Christian club".

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