The European Commission recommended that 10 countries be admitted to the European Union by 2004 in a historic enlargement toward the East, but it also made clear that it does not yet consider that the largest of the applicants, Turkey, is ready to join. The move sparked inevitable disappointment in Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said that the commission's report was "far from meeting our expectations." He added that his government would press the EU to open formal accession talks at their summit meeting in Copenhagen in December.
The decision was also a disappointment for the U.S., which has long supported Turkey's claim to membership. The U.S. special envoy to Cyprus, Tom Weston, said a positive reaction to Turkey's bid would avert a possible "diplomatic train wreck" over divided Cyprus, which is among the economically most advanced of the nations seeking membership.
The commission attempted to sugar the pill by proposing to double the 172 million (U.S. $168.5 million) in aid that Turkey receives to bring its institutions in line with the EU, and praising the Turkish government for the political and economic improvements it has so far put in place, improvements that Weston described as "stupendous steps."
The commission's recommendations, announced by Romano Prodi, the commission president, before the European Parliament, will be discussed by EU foreign ministers Oct. 24 and 25. Observers said they were likely to get a favorable reception.
The commission, which is the EU's executive body, calls for negotiations with the 10 successful applicants to be completed by the end of this year so that they can be ready to join the Union by 2004. This would be in line with the ambition already expressed by member governments at earlier summit meetings, that applicant countries should be admitted in time to participate in the elections for the European Parliament in 2004.
The 10 countries are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia. The commission said it strongly supported the aspirations of Bulgaria and Romania to join the EU by 2007. But although the EU formally accepted Turkey as a candidate member in 1999, the commission gave no hint as to when accession talks might begin. (International Herald Tribune)
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