EU tells Turkey: No 'cruise control' on accession

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As leading EU countries are advocating alternatives to full EU membership for Turkey, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week that Ankara should speed up reform instead of breeding unrealistic expectations during its accession process.

"No one should be mistaken: There is no cruise control in the accession negotiations. Each step forward requires hard work and intense preparations by the candidates for EU membership," Rehn said, speaking at forum held in Brussels on Friday (26 June).

The enlargement commissioner acknowledged progress made by Turkey in the accession process, but stressed that no such advance was visible in the last six months. 

He stressed the "pressing need" to reform the legal and constitutional framework governing the closure of political parties, as well of guaranteeing freedom of expression and the independence and pluralism of the media. 

Recent reports by the European Commission and the Parliament have warned of a continuous slowdown in the reform process in Turkey (EurActiv 12/02/09). 

But Erdogan rejected the view that his country had not made enough efforts to meet the accession criteria, considering instead that the EU maintained double standards vis-à-vis his country compared to other candidates. He called the situation "abnormal" and slammed anti-Turkish rhetoric during the European election debate. 

"Some narrow-minded politicians used Turkey as election material [over the EU elections]. This is very wrong, very populist," he said, speaking to the press through a translator. 

Erdogan also strongly rejected hints of possible alternatives to his country's EU membership (EurActiv 11/05/09). 

"We cannot accept the positions France and Germany have taken," Erdogan said, adding: "There is no such type of [privileged] partnership. Our goal is full membership." 

Hard line on Cyprus 

In his speech, Rehn had called for drawing inspiration from the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, for another "historic opportunity" to end the division of Cyprus. 

But the Turkish prime minister said that the EU view of a "2009 final rendez-vous" for completing the talks was "wrong". He made it clear that his country did not accept blame for the stalemate in Cyprus, and called for a greater EU involvement in ongoing reunification talks, under the watch of Alexander Downer, the UN's special advisor on Cyprus and a former Australian foreign minister. 

Mild optimism on Nabucco 

Erdogan said he was optimistic about a "signing ceremony" on the EU flagship pipeline project, intended to reduce the Union's dependence on Russian gas, to be held in July. Recently Ankara signalled that it would help push Nabucco ahead of Russia's rival 'South Stream' project (EurActiv 29/05/09). 

However, he warned of certain question marks regarding the project, as several "serious steps" had not been taken and the gas committed was in his words insufficient - 15 billion cubic metres, less than half of the planned capacity of 31 bcm. He added that he hoped that during the July signing "at least a roadmap to begin construction" could be determined. 

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