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Summary: December 21, 2004: Turkey: MEPs turn to give position following European Council (Brussels)
On Tuesday, the Dutch Prime Minister and President of the European Council, Jan-Peter BALKENENDE gave a debriefing to the European Parliament on the results of the European summit of 16 and 17 December. As expected, the decision to open accession negotiations with Turkey in October 2005 was of the most interested to MEPs. According to Mr. Balkenende, it was a "fair and sustainable solution, acceptable to all," adding that "a historic step has been taken in an equally historic process of rapprochement and accession". Friday's decision could become a strong signal, which would reach beyond Turkey's borders that there is no "unbridgeable opposition between peoples of a Christian tradition and those who adhere to Islam".
European Commission President José Manuel BARROSO said that Turkey would have to realise that there were still a number of very sensitive issues. Turkey would have to break new ground and send even clearer signals of its European commitment.
Hans-Gert POETTERING (EPP-ED, DE) objected to the results of the summit, finding that the accession of ten new Member States had first to be completed successfully. Formal accession was only the beginning, Mr. Poettering stressed. A lot still needed to be done in order to integrate the ten new members in all structures and policies on an equal footing. As regards Turkey, Mr. Poettering demanded that the political criteria be fully met, which meant an end to all torture, full recognition of Cyprus before opening negotiations, and a settlement to the border conflicts with Greece. He was worried by remarks made by the Turkish justice minister suggesting that negotiations could be completed in five years. Should negotiations fail to result in Turkey's accession, reflection must be given to alternative arrangements.
On the contrary, Martin SCHULZ (PES, DE) said that the EU should refrain from taking up positions that would change the EU's nature. It was imperative, given the possible security gains, to seize the opportunity to integrate Turkey into the EU. Overemphasising alternatives in the case of a failure, undermined the credibility of the EU, Mr Schulz said. However, Prime Minister Erdogan should also be honest and state clearly that recognition of Cyprus is part of the Council decision.
Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) applauded the clear decision on Turkey, which contrasted sharply to the scandalous procedure used in the European Parliament vote (reference to the use of voting by secret ballot in Strasbourg last week). On Romania and Bulgaria, the Liberals would maintain their view that each should join on its own merits.
Joost LAGENDIJK (Greens/EFA, NL) wanted to know if the new negotiations framework would apply to all new candidates and not only to Turkey. And he questioned whether the 'screening process' which is to start before 3 October 2005 needed a new mandate from the Council. Mr Lagendijk criticised the decision to accept Romania in 2007, as the freedom of the press, an uncorrupted police force and an independent judiciary were still not properly upheld.
Francis WURTZ (EUL/NGL, FR) warned of the disaffection that a failure of the negotiations with Turkey might cause. The EU had not properly equipped itself to absorb Turkey and was sending out ambiguous signals to Turkey, without really welcoming it. What would be left of the Member State relationship with Turkey if all the safeguard clauses mentioned were put in place? On the other hand, the EU should not let up with its demands as regards the Kurdish population. The EU needed to change as well and not attach so much importance to liberalisation and privatisation.
Hans BLOKLAND (IND/DEM, NL) voiced grave disappointment that the European constitution "denied" the Judaeo-Christian foundation of Europe. Turkey, Mr. Blokland said, is geographically outside Europe and did not have a Christian population. Holding referendums might allay concerns among EU citizens, but this would only postpone the actual crisis. The decision on Turkey was an "historic error".
Brian CROWLEY (UEN, IE) applauded the Dutch presidency for an "effective stewardship of the EU". The decision on opening negotiations with Turkey was only the start of the process: the final decision was yet to be made. As regards Romania and Bulgaria, Mr. Crowley said the EU was not honest enough on how far they still had to go. The EU should tell Romania and Bulgaria when things went wrong.
Replies Dutch presidency and Commission
In answering the diverse questions and remarks raised by MEPs, Prime Minister BALKENENDE confirmed that the new negotiations framework was indeed generic and applied to all new candidates. Accession in five years would be impossible, if only due to the limits of the EU's absorption capacity. On Cyprus, Mr. Balkenende stressed that joining the EU could not be coupled with non-recognition of one Member State.
European Commission President Mr. BARROSO acknowledged that a proper debate on the limits of Europe had not yet taken place. He referred, however, to the summit conclusions, which mentioned the ability of the EU to absorb new members and which stated that efforts must be made to integrate the present candidates. Thereafter, the Balkans states would be able to join when they respect the criteria, while the present response for other countries was to be found within the EU's neighbourhood policy.