Turkish accession could spell end of EU, says commissioner

Posted in Europe | 08-Sep-04 | Author: David Gow and Ewen MacAskill| Source: Guardian

A European commissioner has warned that the European Union may implode if Turkey is allowed to join.

Frits Bolkestein, the internal market commissioner, expressed concern that if Ankara was admitted to the EU, the defeat of Turks in Vienna more than 300 years ago could turn out to have been in vain.

The commission is due to report next month on Turkey's eligibility and heads of government are scheduled to make a decision in December.

Mr Bolkestein laid bare tensions in the EU over whether to open accession talks with Ankara. The Dutch rightwing liberal said Turkey would have to undergo huge changes before being ready for entry, fundamentally altering its identity, and that the accession of a country of 68 million people, with perhaps 83 million by 2010, would transform the EU.

He added: "After Turkish entry the EU will simply be unable to sustain its current agricultural and regional policy. Europe would implode."

Yesterday, his spokesman insisted that Mr Bolkestein did not want to prejudge the outcome of the debate within the commission.

Mr Bolkestein, quoting remarks by the US historian Bernard Lewis that Europe would be Islamic by the end of this century, commented: "I don't know if it will take this course but, if he's right, the liberation of Vienna [from the Ottoman Turks] in 1683 would have been in vain."

His colleague, Günter Verheugen, the European commissioner responsible for enlargement, also issued a warning to Turkey yesterday, indicating it would have to improve the lot of its Kurdish minority if it wanted to join the EU.

He was speaking during a visit to Tuzla, a Kurdish village set on fire by Turkish troops fighting Kurdish rebels in 1995.

On October 6, Mr Verheugen is to publish his verdict on whether Turkey is eligible for accession. Heads of government are to make a decision based on his assessment.

Many EU countries are hostile, partly because accession would bring 68 million Muslims into the EU. The Netherlands and Austria are among the biggest critics, with France, Germany and Belgium also resistant. Britain supports Turkish entry.

Mr Verheugen, making his final visit to Turkey before completing his report, said: "We have strongly ... advocated education in the Kurdish language and broadcasts in the Kurdish language and I am satisfied that they have started with some delay. But I must say that what we have seen so far can only be the beginning."

Until recently, the private view among commissioners such as Mr Verheugen was that there was no possibility of Turkish entry for at least 20 years because of its abysmal human rights record.

But the US, which sees Turkey as an ally in its "war on terror", has been pressing the EU to allow earlier entry, and the Turkish government has been pushing through reforms of its legal system, including the abolition of the death penalty.

An indication of the likely direction of Mr Verheugen's report was offered this week with publication of an independent report by a panel headed by Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president.

Mr Ahtisaari said that Turkish entry would offer "considerable benefits", not least because "as a large Muslim country firmly embedded in the EU, Turkey could play a significant role in Europe's relations with the Islamic world".