Turkish date debate

The European Union appeared divided yesterday over Turkey’s European prospects, while at the same time working hard to break a deadlock between Greece and Turkey and allow its Rapid Reaction Force to become operational next year. Greece, continuing its recent policy of support for Turkey’s «European destiny,» is one of only two EU members – the other being the United Kingdom – which have called on the EU to provide Turkey with a fixed date for the start of accession talks at the next European summit in Copenhagen in December. In yesterday’s extraordinary summit in Brussels, where enlargement is being discussed, Germany also appeared willing to provide a «date for a date» for Turkey. Turkey’s strategic importance as both a Western ally and an Islamic country has led to calls for its acceptance as an EU member. But Turkey’s problematic economy which would require massive infusions of aid and several repressive aspects of its regime have given pause to most members. The clash of opinions was apparent yesterday when European Commission President Romano Prodi declared that the Commission would not propose a fixed date for accession talks with Turkey. Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy and security chief, bluntly disagreed. «That is the opinion of Mr Prodi… we have to send all the positive signals to Turkey,» he told reporters. Solana, who was to meet Greek Prime Costas Simitis later last night, appeared optimistic that differences preventing the functioning of the 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force would soon be overcome. The fledgling force can hardly operate without NATO support. Turkey, a NATO member, demands a veto over the force’s operations in order to concede to that support. Greece has objected to Turkey’s demands, rejecting a compromise text drafted by the USA and the UK last December, and which Turkey accepted. Diplomatic sources were saying yesterday that in recent weeks Turkey had given ground and that it was Greece’s turn to make a move. Although relations between Greece and Turkey seem to have improved lately, two incidents that took place last week but were only revealed yesterday underscored the fragility of the improvement. Government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris confirmed yesterday a report published in the daily Espresso of two intrusions by Turkish vessels into Greek territorial waters at the very spot where a war nearly erupted in 1996. Hytiris downplayed the incident, saying the vessels were closely followed and left after a short while.