Turks try to sweet-talk EU

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The Independent Online
Tansu Ciller, the Turkish Foreign Minister, will answer critics of Turkey's application to join the EU when she hosts a meeting for European diplomats today. She is to address ambassadors from the EU's 15 members-states to try to nudge Turkey into the running for enlargement of the union.

Her sermon, delivered in reassuring European terms, will need to be even more palatable than the marinated shish. Earlier this week Ms Ciller and other Turkish Europhiles were reminded of obstacles on its path to membership when figures from Europe's Christian Democrat parties, meeting in Brussels, appeared to dismiss the possibility of Turkey joining the list of other nations with which the EU is to begin entry negotiations. In the words of Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister: "It [the meeting] was unanimous against Turkish membership."

Ms Ciller must also divert her guests from speculation that Turkey may soon embrace a different and now devalued European tradition: a military coup. On Friday Turkey's generals slapped down attempts by Necmettin Erbakan, the Prime Minister, to make Turkey more like the Middle East. The Army staged its most dramatic intervention for 14 years and demanded a return to the secular order institutionalised by Turkey's founding father, Ataturk.

The generals affirmed their adherence to the ideal of European integration, but may have over-estimated Europe's susceptibility to claims that the military are the guardians of Turkish democracy. While Europeans feel broad sympathy for Turkey's desire to remain secular, the Army's more draconian demands - for example, the enforcement of a ban on Islamic style beards and clothing - are considered redolent of another, less libertarian Europe. In the name of integration, say some, the military has confirmed Turkey's unsuitability for membership of the club.

Turkey may have been guilty of other misjudgements. When Ms Ciller, as Prime Minister, sweet-talked the European parliament into ratifying a customs-union accord with Turkey, she promised to improve Turkey's human- rights record but failed to deliver. Violations, especially in connection with the war against Kurdish separatists, upset parliamentarians so much that they blocked money which the EU had promised Turkey.

The Turks regard this as humbug. In 1989, when its application for European Community membership was deferred, Turkey's unsuitability was explained in largely economic terms; its human-rights record was afforded little prominence. Now, while Turkey has the highest growth rate of any OECD country, attention has switched. The Turks think they know why: Europe, they claim, overlooked human-rights abuses as long as Turkey provided security on Europe's eastern border. Now, as former Warsaw Pact nations prepare to leapfrog into the EU, offending Turkey appears less perilous.

The main obstacle to Turkey's European aspirations is relations with Greece, which is blocking EU funds promised to help Turkey acclimatise to the customs union. The Greeks want assurances that Cyprus will enter the EU - on their terms. In response, the Turks, who disagree, have threatened to derail plans for Nato expansion.