Turkish premier returns to a hero’s welcome after historic deal with EU
By SELCAN HACAOGLU
The Associated Press
12/18/04 04:55 EST
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s prime minister returned from an EU
summit to a hero’s welcome Saturday, hours after the European Union
grudgingly agreed to seriously consider his country for membership
despite widespread public opposition to a Muslim nation joining
Hundreds of supporters waving Turkish and European Union flags greeted
Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the airport in Istanbul. Some held banners
proclaiming him “the conqueror of EU” and “the new star of EU.”
Hours earlier in Brussels the European Union offered to begin talks
aimed at bringing Turkey into the EU. The long-coveted invitation
came despite Erdogan’s refusal to formally recognize Cyprus, Turkey’s
longtime adversary and an EU member since May.
EU leaders hailed the agreement as a historic step, one that would
expand the borders of the 25-nation EU from Ireland to Iran. Turkey’s
stock market rose to a record high.
“We have been writing history today, and the agreement we reached today
will acquire full significance in the years ahead,” said Dutch Prime
Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country holds the EU presidency.
The talks will begin Oct. 3, 2005, the beginning of a process that
could take years and could transform the political and social landscape
of both parties.
If the talks succeed, Turkey would become the largest EU member, with
a population of 71 million – expected to grow as high as 85 million
by 2020. But its per capita income is roughly one-third of the average
of longtime EU member states, requiring far-reaching economic reforms.
Turkish membership would also add millions of citizens to the EU at
a time when many Europeans are questioning whether their countries,
which have a Christian heritage, can absorb large numbers of Muslim
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the decision to accept Turkish
membership shows “that those who believe there is a fundamental clash
of civilizations between Christians and Muslims are actually wrong,
that they can work together, that we can cooperate together.”
Most Turkish newspapers were ecstatic. “We Succeeded,” read the
headline in Saturday’s edition of the leading Hurriyet. Another daily,
the Sabah, blared: “European Revolution.”
But the deal nearly fell apart because of an EU requirement that
Turkey initial an agreement Friday expanding its customs union with
the EU to include Cyprus and nine other members that joined in May. The
agreement would have to be signed by October.
Erdogan balked at the requirement, which EU diplomats said amounted
to tactic recognition of the Greek Cypriot government.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 to block a coup by Greek Cypriots,
and decades of diplomacy have failed to reunite the Mediterranean
island. About 40,000 Turkish troops remain in northern Cyprus, which
is controlled by Turkish Cypriots.
After hours of intensive negotiations, the EU agreed to accept a
statement from Erdogan that he would sign the customs agreement before
the talks start and that the move would not constitute recognition
“This is a win-win agreement,” Erdogan said. “The process from now
on will be even more difficult … but I strongly believe Turkey will
be able to achieve this.”
Back home, he pledged to work harder and strengthen the country’s bid.
“This result will not spoilt us, will not relax us,” Erdogan told
the crowd at the airport.
However nationalist newspapers were furious, arguing the terms were
too harsh. “Dishonored,” the daily Yeni Cag newspaper declared in
EU officials said the talks would be open-ended and without a guarantee
of eventual EU membership. Opposition leaders said that gave Turkey
little chance of success.
Several EU countries strongly oppose admitting Turkey, fearing an
influx of culturally different migrants who would compete for jobs.
French President Jacques Chirac, who has promised a referendum on
Turkish membership if the talks succeed, said Ankara would have
to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said he would also call a
referendum because bringing a Muslim country into the EU “must not
be decided in an ivory tower. … We cannot be indifferent about
Supporters of Turkey’s entry contend the country could be a bridge
between Europe and the Middle East and stand as an example of a
democratic state with Islamic traditions. Turkey, a longtime NATO
member, has been legally secular since the collapse of the Ottoman
Empire after World War I.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser, Raf Casert, Art Max and Robert
Wielaard contributed to this report.