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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years