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Report says 'Vicious Cycle'  Between EU and Ankara Impedes Turkey's EU Accession


It has been 50 years since Turkey was asked to join the European community. Although Turkey's leaders say they remain committed to joining the European Union, a report published this week by an influential group accuses some European leaders of trying to derail Turkey's membership bid.

The report by the Independent Commission on Turkey accuses some EU leaders of inciting fears over Turkish membership. It says negative statements from some leaders are highlighting such issues as immigration, jobs, Islam and a general dissatisfaction with the European Union.

It points the finger most firmly at France whose President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is strongly opposed to Turkish entry. Germany and Austria are among the countries that object to Turkey having full membership, proposing instead a privileged partnership.

The commission is made up of senior European politicians and academics, and is led by the former Finnish President and Nobel Laureate, Martti Ahtisaari.

He cautions that European Union's credibility is at stake.

"In 1999, we said that Turkey is a candidate state destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate states," said Martti Ahtisaari. "So it's the credibility of the EU [at stake]."

The report warns of growing negative public opinion in Turkey toward Europe.

On the streets of Istanbul, it is not difficult to find examples of the growing cynicism.

"They, in fact, don't want us because of our culture, our religion, life style," said one woman. "It is all about us. This shows prejudice to our country and our culture. But I believe Turkey doesn't need the European Union to be a powerful or strong country."

Such a view is all to common, according to Haluk Sahin of Istanbul's Bilgi University.

"As far as Europe is concerned, Turks believe that they are being discriminated against," said Haluk Sahin. "They are not being treated as an equal to other applicants. And they are resorting to irrational means to release that frustration."

The Independent Commission on Turkey report says a "vicious circle" has developed. As resistance to Turkey's membership has grown among EU member states, deepening resentment in Turkey has slowed the reforms necessary for EU accession.

Suat Kiniklioglu, a Member of the Turkish Parliament and Spokesman for the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, acknowledges such concern. But he says Turkish lawmakers are committed to reform.

"We intend to accelerate the process in the coming months, but there is no doubt that the voices we hear from Paris and Berlin and other places are discouraging many in Turkey, actually, making it difficult to push through difficult reforms because we are now at a stage where the nicer chapters are gone, but now the stuff which require difficult decisions to be made," said Suat Kiniklioglu.

During four years of accession talks, Turkey has opened only 11 of 35 policy chapters that need to be negotiated. They successfully closed one on science and research. This is partly due to the island of Cyprus, which is divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Eight of the chapters are formally blocked because Turkey refuses to open its ports and airports to traffic from the Greek side of Cyprus.

Richard Howitt, member of the European Parliament's Committee on Turkey warns the country could be running out of time.

"As a friend of Turkey who wants to see Turkey's accession, who wants the reform process to succeed, I give them that friendly warning that it might fail," said Richard Howitt. "Don't underestimate that there are people in Europe who don't want these talks to succeed and therefore on Cyprus on other aspects of reform, even if it's difficult to make those changes happen or one day the train crash that it has been warned about will happen."

Analysts say Ankara will be hoping that this latest report will galvanize European leaders to support its EU bid. But they say few people in Turkey think that will happen.

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