EU keeps door open for Turkey but predicts 'difficult' talks ahead

After a debate described as "lengthy, argumentative and also very political", the European Commission stuck to existing moves to start talks on membership on 3 October.

"No" votes in referendums in France and the Netherlands on the European constitution have galvanised opponents of Turkish entry, and several commissioners suggested yesterday that a "privileged partnership" be considered with the EU instead.

The EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, said there was "no denying" that such an idea had been raised, adding: "I think the privileged partnership will be part of the debate in the years and months to come."

But, after stormy scenes, the majority of the commission backed the membership talks which Mr Rehn said would be "long and difficult". The terms of the "open-ended" negotiations were the "most rigorous" ever set out, he said.

Inside the meeting at least three commissioners, including Austria's Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Luxembourg's Viviane Reding and Slovakia's Jan Figel, sought to change the text.

Despite contributions from a further three sceptics about Turkish accession, they failed to soften the text's commitment to Turkey's eventual membership or lay more stress on the need to consider the EU's ability to absorb new member states.

Yesterday's decision is only a small step forward and needs to be approved by all 25 member states. In national capitals, several senior European politicians, including the German opposition leader, Angela Merkel, and France's rising political star, Nicholas Sarkozy, have come out against full membership for Turkey. All the main political parties in Austria are also opposed.

Nevertheless, most officials believe that membership negotiations will begin on 3 October, because failure to do so would send a negative signal to Ankara which might end its impressive internal reforms.

Turkey would be the first predominantly Muslim country to join the EU and, because of its large population and relative poverty, its absorption would pose unique problems. However supporters say admitting the country would help head off a clash of civilisations, boost the EU's economic potential and increase its defence capability.

Membership talks with Ankara are expected to last a decade but, in the changed climate after the French and Dutch referendums, many believe that Turkey may now never join.

Under the terms set out in the document, permanent measures could be considered, for example to bar Turkish workers from the EU internal market.

The text says talks will be based on Turkey's "own merits and the pace will depend on Turkey's progress in meeting the requirements for membership". The proposal also reiterates the warning that the commission or one third of the EU governments can recommend the talks be suspended "in the case of a serious and persistent breach" of democratic and human rights standards. There would then be a vote under majority voting rules.

In another reference to the possibility of an outcome short of full membership, Mr Rehn said that if Turkey cannot be brought into the bloc, Ankara "must be assured" of a special relationship by "anchoring it in European structures".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test