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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Why Austria was a sticking point
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News website

Austria ball
Austria is not so keen to let Turkey join the party
One country, Austria, held up the start of the EU's accession talks with Turkey.

The disagreement centred on the text defining a framework for the negotiations - and specifically the ultimate goal the negotiations should aim at.

In some ways it might seem like a small point.

Everyone agreed that the negotiations would be "an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand".

In other words they recognised that the goal, whatever it is, may not be reached.

The general view is that enough is enough with EU enlargement
Professor Anton Pelinka, Innsbruck University
Everyone also agreed that if the talks fail, the EU will seek the "strongest possible bond" with Turkey.

And everyone but Austria accepted that the goal of the negotiations should be full membership.

What Austria wanted to be made explicit in the negotiating framework was that the talks could result in something other than full membership, such as "privileged partnership".


Professor Anton Pelinka of Innsbruck University told the BBC News website that both the Austrian government and Austrian public opinion had been hardening against the idea of Turkish membership in recent months.

"It's a lot to do with xenophobia," he said.

"As in other EU states, discussion of EU matters has been very much confined to the political elite. Now this has suddenly become a broader debate and people who are not interested in European affairs fear that it will mean foreigners coming to Austria, and not even Christians - of course there is a bit of Islamophobia in it."

Public opinion had been influenced by a campaign in the mass-market tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung, he said, while the governing People's Party was feeling vulnerable after doing badly in regional elections.

The opposition Socialists and far-right party of Joerg Haider are both against the idea of membership talks with Turkey.

An opinion poll conducted by Eurobarometer in May and June 2005 showed that Austria was more opposed to Turkish membership than any other EU country.

Eighty percent of those questioned were against, and only 10% for.

Austria is really a front for France and Germany
Michael Emerson, Centre for European Policy Studies
Seventy-eight percent feared an increase in immigration, while 73% thought that the cultural differences between Turkey and Western Europe were too great.

The experts who conducted the poll also pointed out that Austrians were unusual in seeing almost no positive side to Turkish membership. Only 24% believed it would increase understanding between Europe and the Muslim world.

Not so isolated

Mr Pelinka rejected the idea that the two sieges of Vienna by the Ottoman army in 1529 and 1683 played a significant role.

Public still coming to terms with last EU enlargement
Tabloid newspaper campaign against Turkish membership
Governing People's Party feeling vulnerable and isolated
Element of xenophobia and Islamophobia
Memory of Ottoman sieges of Vienna

He pointed out that Napoleon had conquered the country far more recently.

"I think it is something to do with geopolitics. Austria is on the border with four new EU member states and the general opinion is that we have enough to do to accept the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia," he said.

"The general view is that enough is enough with EU enlargement."

Michael Emerson, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, said that Austria was not as isolated in Europe as it might seem.

"Austria is really a front for France and Germany," he said.

"Both are in a complicated political situation and public opinion in both countries is 70% to 30% against Turkish membership."

He pointed out that powerful political leaders in each country, Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany, were both opposed to Turkey's bid.

And while President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder both favoured the start of membership talks, Mr Chirac was no longer completely in control, and Mr Schroeder appeared to be on the way out.

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