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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 17:21 GMT
EU's ties with Turkey tested
By William Horsley
BBC European Affairs correspondent

The heavy loss of life as a result of the Istanbul bombings has brought a wave of sympathy for the Turkish people.

Jack Straw and Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul
Straw called the bombings an attack both on Turkey and its allies
The government has declared it will stand firm, and uphold the pro-Western, secular and democratic tradition which makes Turkey a model of its kind in the Muslim world.

Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary, flew at once to Istanbul and called the bombings an attack both on Turkey and on its allies in the West.

He said Britain would do anything to ensure that Turkey is accepted as a full EU member "as soon as possible".

But it may take many months to know whether the EU as a whole agrees with Mr Straw's view.

In the first reaction from the European Commission, a spokesman said the bomb attacks had not changed the way the EU regards Turkey.

The bomb attacks have not changed the way the EU regards Turkey
EU Commission spokesman
Rather, he said they underline the need for Turkey to be "politically stable and respectful of the values which Europe defends".

Nearly all political parties in Turkey see EU membership as desirable and as a key sign that the country has achieved the goal set out by Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, of being accepted as "part of the West".

Turkey has long been seen as a vital member of the Nato alliance.

Clouds on the horizon

But the outlook for Turkey's bid to secure EU membership is clouded in several ways.

  • The Commission, in its latest assessment of Turkey's progress towards meeting EU standards of democracy and human rights, said that Turkey still has much to do, especially in eliminating torture and upholding the rights of the Kurdish minority.

    So far there is no clear sign that the EU's planned review late next year will lead to the start of formal talks on Turkish accession, as Britain wants.

  • The EU wants Turkey to back down over its military occupation and claim of sovereignty over northern Cyprus, to pave the way for a political settlement there before Cyprus formally enters the EU in May next year.

    The Turkish army and strong political forces seem unwilling to make this big concession without big gestures by the EU in return.

  • Conservative and Christian-based parties in several EU member-states say openly that they do not regard Turkey, a Muslim nation, as "part of Europe". The deputy head of the CDU in Germany, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said this week that the EU should offer Turkey a "special relationship" that is less than full eventual membership.

  • Turkey is situated in a region of conflict and instability, with Iraq, Iran and Syria as neighbours. The EU would prefer not to have external borders close to such potential dangers - but real stability in the Middle East seems a long way off.

Leaders vs public opinion

The bombings have brought a strong re-affirmation of Turkey's commitment to Westernisation from its political leaders.

But public and press opinion is more volatile.

Turkey's close ties with the US and Nato will surely be tested further.

The destruction of the HSBC Bank headquarters, an obvious symbol of global capital, will also test the Turkish economy and the will of foreign investors.

But the bombings may well also turn the Turkish nation, and others, more strongly against the groups which resort to such horrific violence.

They may also, as Jack Straw suggests, persuade more of Turkey's allies and friends that the best response to terrorism is closer co-operation, and a common front against violent extremism.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"No one here has any sympathy for the militant killers"

Jack Straw MP, Foreign Secretary
"This was as much an attack on the Turkish people as it was on British interests"

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