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".

News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin