After more than 40 years of waiting, Turkey was yesterday invited to start European Union membership talks next year, after European leaders agreed to impose a series of tough conditions on the negotiations./p>
After more than 40 years of waiting, Turkey was yesterday invited to start European Union membership talks next year, after European leaders agreed to impose a series of tough conditions on the negotiations.
At a summit in Brussels, EU leaders decided that detailed membership talks with Ankara can begin on 3 October next year under the chairmanship of the UK, which takes over the EU presidency in July.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, was last night studying the offer, which raises the prospect of the most complex and controversial enlargement the EU has attempted. If he approves the deal, it will mean the start of talks expected to last at least a decade.
But officials were still awaiting an official reaction from Ankara. Still unresolved was a blockage over the Turkey's relations with Cyprus, which it does not recognise but which entered the EU in May.
One condition of the talks beginning is that Turkey extends a customs union to all 10 countries that joined the EU in May, including Cyprus. That is seen by some as implicit recognition of the Cypriot government.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said: "Tonight the EU has opened its doors to Turkey. I genuinely believe that this is an offer that Turkey should be glad to accept." Turkey first sought membership of the western European club in 1963 but, following the events of 11 September 2001, its accession is seen as a way of building a bridge between the EU and the Islamic world. But the prospect of starting negotiations with a large, impoverished and mainly Muslim country of 70 million people has caused acute anxiety in several EU capitals.
Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, which holds the EU presidency, said the goal of the negotiations was full membership for Turkey but there was no guarantee that will be the outcome. If talks fail, he added, Turkey should be "anchored in European structures" a phrase that some believe leaves open the possibility of a looser relationship with the EU. The deal also agrees to allow EU countries to consider whether they can exclude Turkey from some privileges of membership, such as free movement of workers. That goes beyond the restrictions placed on 10 countries that joined this year.
The most difficult issue to resolve remains Cyprus, which joined the EU as a divided island in May and has been pressing Turkey to grant it formal recognition. The Cypriot President, Tassos Papadopoulos, promised to "exert every effort" to achieve that aim, and said he was prepared for "hard bargaining until the last moment". Although Ankara has rejected the recognition of Cyprus, the Turks were expected to promise to extend the customs union set up under the Ankara agreement to the new member states, including Cyprus.
Mr Erdogan had invested huge political capital in getting a clear decision on when talks would start, and the offer a precise date in October is a big gesture to Ankara. France insisted on a delay to the start of negotiations until after its referendum on the constitution, which is due in the first half of next year, for fear that the two issues will become linked.Reuse content