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Today's Zaman - October 8, 2010

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger admitted that his country was skeptical towards eventual Turkish membership in the European Union but said the focus should now be on the accession process, which his government is not blocking.

“From the beginning, we had an approach which looked at this issue with skepticism; we would consider ‘privileged partnership’ as a more suitable option for Turkey,” Spindelegger said at a joint press conference following talks with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, in Ankara.

Austria has been one of the most reserved countries with regards to Turkey’s bid for full EU membership and has constantly favored “a tailor-made partnership,” such as forming a European-Turkish Community.

“However, the decision for starting the accession negotiations is taken. We support this decision in the proper sense and also support the negotiations,” Spindelegger said, noting that his country was not blocking the opening of new negotiation chapters with Ankara.

“Most of the time, the end of this accession process is mentioned. Talks are about what kind of a result this process will yield, however, the process is going on at the moment,” he said, stressing that both Brussels and Ankara should focus on the process itself.

Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999 and opened accession negotiations in 2005 but progress has been slow since amid objections in Europe to the accession of a predominantly Muslim country and disputes over Cyprus. In October 2005, when the EU officially opened membership negotiations with Turkey, a prolonged dispute began due to Austria’s former foreign minister’s insistence on placing more emphasis in the related official EU text on the limits of the EU’s capacity to absorb new members, aiming to make it part of a formal condition for Turkey’s EU entry.

Turkey says it categorically rejects any form of association with the EU other than full membership and it has urged the EU not to water down its membership commitments.

Davutoğlu on Thursday reiterated that Turkey expects all members of the EU to remain committed to the principle of pacta sunt servanda (a principle of international law which means in Latin that agreements must be kept) vis-a-vis Turkey’s ongoing membership negotiations.

Following Spindelegger’s visit, Ankara will host a senior politician from another key Turkey-skeptical EU member: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. French President Nicolas Sarkozy claims that Turkey does not belong in Europe.

Kouchner will pay a two-day working visit to Turkey on Sunday and Monday at the invitation of Davutoğlu. In addition to his counterpart, Kouchner is expected to hold talks with both Prime Minisetr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and State Minister Egemen Bağış, who is the country’s chief EU negotiator.

Not only Turkey-skeptics, but also officials of EU-member states warm to Turkey’s EU accession are also visiting the candidate country regularly. One of them was Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who paid a two-day visit to Ankara and İstanbul earlier this week.

Poland would strive to bring Turkey closer to EU accession, Sikorski said at a joint press conference following talks with Davutoğlu on Wednesday in Ankara.

Sikorski said that during its EU presidency in the second half of next year Poland would like to close at least one chapter in the accession talks between the EU and Turkey, while Davutoğlu voiced conviction that Poland, as Turkey’s good “old friend,” would support Ankara in its EU aspirations.

“We are sure that relations between Turkey and the EU would gain remarkable momentum during the Polish term presidency ... We have high expectations from Poland and we have full confidence in this country,” Davutoğlu said.

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