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Analysis Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 17:52 GMT
EU's tough balancing act on Turkey
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul
The Turkish PM is keen to join the EU

As leaders prepare to meet next week to discuss admission to Europe's smartest club - the European Union - Radio 4's Analysis programme finds out what outsiders including Turkey hope to gain from membership.

His all-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I, the senior spiritual figure in the eastern Christian Church, does not often give radio interviews, and relations between his flock and their Muslim neighbours have not always been idyllic.

But the 270th holder of this ancient office, which dates back to the fourth Century has made an exception to speak to Analysis.

What is it that he wants to speak so publicly about? Membership of the European Union.

The entry of Turkey into the European Union - easily the most controversial aspect of the Union's enlargement plans - is not only conceivable, it is strongly desirable, the patriarch argues.

The advent of a mainly Muslim member state will only be an "enrichment" for the Union; and it will be of great benefit to Turkey's own citizens, who he says are clearly hoping to send a message to the EU leaders gathering in Denmark on 11 December.

Changes

Before they even consider what to do about Turkey, the EU heads of government will use their Copenhagen summit to proclaim what many view as the biggest change since their bloc was founded, more than 40 years ago.

Barring a last-minute upset, they will issue formal invitations to 10 more countries - eight of them ex-communist - and thus ensure the creation, by spring 2004, of a Union stretching from Galway to the Black Sea, and comprising nearly 500 million citizens.

Romania and Bulgaria have been promised membership a few years down the road, while Turkey has been accepted as a candidate but not yet given a firm plan for the start of negotiations.

Turkish officials have warned that unless their membership hopes are given a clear boost at Copenhagen - in the form of a date for entry talks, or the promise of a date in the very near future - they will be bitterly disappointed.

But attitudes to EU enlargement in general, and Turkey in particular, among the Union's existing members, are ambiguous at best.

Promises

Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing: Against Turkey joining the EU
Three Britons out of four could not name any of the countries involved in the forthcoming wave of enlargement. Most EU citizens fear enlargement will be very expensive. At least half say it will not make much difference to their lives.

Francois Heisbourg, one of France's leading commentators on geopolitics, has argued that doubts about Turkey's eventual entry could lead EU citizens to question the whole enlargement project.

While making plain that in his view, the Union should keep its promises to Ankara, Dr Heisbourg argues that the Union's leaders were not entirely sincere when they stated three years ago that Turkey was a candidate.

At least one of the leaders who made that commitment continued to insist privately that Turkey would never join the Union, says the French commentator.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who is chairing a project to write a constitution for an enlarged Union, dropped a bombshell in November by saying that Turkey was not European in culture, and its admission would be an unbearable burden for the Union.

Greek backing

As the Copenhagen summit approaches, some of the strongest arguments against that view will - by a strange twist of fate - come from Greeks.

Not only from the Patriarch (who is a citizen of Turkey but was born into that country's tiny ethnic-Greek minority) but also the Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou.

As his country prepares to take over the Union's rotating presidency at the beginning of January, Mr Papandreou has argued that the interests of the Union, including Greece, will best be served by a strong reaffirmation of the EU's commitment to the admission of Turkey.

Greece has already started planning a spectacular ceremony to mark the signing of an enlargement treaty, admitting 10 new members, next spring.

Unless there is some terrible diplomatic train-wreck, it will probably fall to the Greek presidency to give Turkey what it so badly wants: a precise timetable for the start of detailed negotiations on its admission to Europe's smartest club.

When those talks start, they will doubtless be lengthy and tortuous, but it will then be virtually certain that Turkey will one day become the Union's first overwhelmingly Muslim member.


Analysis: The European juggernaut was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 5 December 2002 at 2030 GMT.

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28 Nov 02 | Analysis
27 Nov 02 | Europe

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