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EU Sets Time for 'Conditional' Entry Talks; Turkey Rejects Proposal


European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, have agreed to conditionally begin entry talks with Turkey in the year 2005, a date that the Turks have already rejected as being inadequate. EU leaders were also arguing publicly Tuesday over whether there is any extra money to give 10 candidate countries that are due to conclude entry negotiations this week.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters most EU countries back a Franco-German proposal to open talks with Turkey in 2005, if Turkey is judged to meet EU membership criteria.

The Turks want to start talks earlier than that, and say they are willing to settle for mid-2003 as a starting date for their accession negotiations. They have rejected the Franco-German proposal.

But the EU is reluctant to open membership talks without more evidence of human rights improvements, democratic reforms and a more stable economy in Turkey.

A senior member of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, Murat Mercan, says his government will have a difficult time persuading the Turkish people that Turkey should play an active role in a U.S.-led war against Iraq if an EU summit in Copenhagen this week gives Turkey the cold shoulder. Turkey wants President Bush to intervene on its behalf with European leaders.

Setting a date for Turkey to begin negotiations has become a major issue at the summit, which is also due to invite ten Eastern European and Mediterranean countries to join the EU.

But final negotiations on the financial entry terms for at least two of the candidates, Poland and Malta, are set to go down to the wire in Copenhagen. The Poles are demanding more farm aid and higher agricultural production quotas, and the Maltese want a zero value added tax on some items.

Diplomats from Denmark, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, say three countries, Cyprus, Slovakia and Estonia, have already accepted the EU's financial package and that five others are nearing a deal.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is offering $40 billion to fund entry of the ten newcomers. And he said that the EU will not go beyond that, despite last-minute attempts by the Poles and some others to eke out more concessions.

But Romano Prodi, the head of the executive European Commission, publicly disagreed with Mr. Rasmussen, saying the EU should offer the candidates an extra two billion dollars that were budgeted for the bloc's enlargement in 1999 and have not been spent.

The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia wrote a joint article in Tuesday's Financial Times newspaper urging the EU to be more generous to their countries and other candidates in order to seal Europe's reunification. They asked the EU's current 15 members to give up their insistence on offering the newcomers less than was originally budgeted for the Union's expansion.

But Germany and other EU members have complained loudly that even the terms now being offered the candidates are too generous.

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