Austria says doesn’t want Turkey as EU member

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Austria would prefer forging a special partnership between the European Union and Turkey over full EU membership for Ankara, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said today (3 May).

In an interview with Austrian radio broadcast on Tuesday (3 May) during a visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Spindelegger said EU membership negotiations with Turkey would take years and serve to "Europeanise" the country.

"We will wait and see what happens, be contructive, but remain true to our basic position that we will strive for a special partnership with Turkey," he said.

Vienna's official line is that the outcome of Turkish entry talks is open. Austrian voters would get the final say in a referendum if enough members of parliament seek one, as resurgent far-right parties demand.

Turkish leaders are sounding increasingly frustrated over stalled progress in entry talks that began in 2005. Turkey, a growing economic power straddling Asia and Europe, says membership is its top foreign policy priority.

Ankara has already rejected the notion of a special partnership falling short of membership.

But the division of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and reservations by heavyweights Germany and France about granting Muslim Turkey full membership are major obstacles.

Gül had called on Monday for a factual discussion of open points in the talks, criticised restrictions on EU visas, and urged the roughly 200,000 Turks in Austria – half of them Austrian nationals – to master German as well as Turkish.

In a radio interview aired on Tuesday Gül suggested booming bilateral business ties may suffer if Turkey continues to get the cold shoulder.

"One should ask whether Austrian companies will continue to be able to make the profits they make now in Turkey if they don't cooperate with Turkey," he said.

He also addressed criticism of Turkey's record on guaranteeing freedom of speech by saying: "In Turkey no journalist will be punished for his journalistic activity. No one will be sanctioned for his opinion."

(EURACTIV with Reuters)

Since EU-Turkey accession talks began in October 2005, 13 of the 35 negotiating chapters have been opened, and only one has been provisionally closed (see table).

Eighteen chapters are frozen due to vetoes by Cyprus, France or the European Union as a whole, with only three chapters remaining on the table – competition policy, social policy and employment, and public procurement.

The reform drive has also been waning in Turkey as a result of the increasingly critical stance of key players like France and Germany.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is staunchly opposed to Turkey's EU membership and is said to consider the decision by his predecessor Jacques Chirac to grant agreement for opening accession negotiations with Ankara as a major mistake.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently lamented the poor integration of immigrant workers in her country, the majority of whom are of Turkish origin, saying that Germany's attempt to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed".

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