NEWS

Turkey future in balance

Athens stood squarely behind the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union as the foreign ministers of the 25 member states gathered in Luxembourg last night for frantic last-minute talks on what kind of deal Ankara would be offered. Membership negotiations with Turkey were slated to start today but after Austria last week refused to accept the layout of the framework for the talks, an emergency meeting of foreign ministers was called to try and come to a last-ditch solution. Vienna said it wants the framework to allow the EU to offer Turkey a privileged partnership at the end of the accession procedure if it does not think Ankara deserves to become a full-blown member. However, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik appeared hopeful yesterday that a compromise could be reached. Turkey says the offer of anything less than full membership will lead to it turning its back on the EU. «We are not striving to begin negotiations no matter what, at any cost,» Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said in an interview published in Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak. «If the problems aren’t solved, then the negotiations will not begin.» Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the EU not to remain a «Christian club.» Greece is backing Ankara’s bid and is wary of a backlash against the EU from popular opinion in Turkey. «I believe that it would be a mistake if Turkey misses out on this historic opportunity,» Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis told Sunday’s Kathimerini. Events were also being watched closely in Nicosia where Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said on Saturday that a settlement to the island’s division was being delayed by «Turkish intransigence and its refusal to enter into substantive talks.» He said that Nicosia would continue strengthening its defenses in the meantime.