Plassnik on negotiations with Turkey: proceeding on sight has proved its worth
Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on the debate about Turkey and EU enlargement following the Main Committee meeting on the European Council on 14-15 December
Vienna, 12 December 2006 - "The signal to Turkey is anything but a symbolic gesture. There has been a clear break in the negotiations and a review mechanism has been introduced, designed to guarantee the full implementation of the Ankara Protocol by Turkey," emphasised Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at today’s joint press conference with Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel on the forthcoming European Council on 14-15 December. "One must not be intimidated by threats, fears and hurt feelings. Austria’s consistent position of "a narrow negotiating channel with sluices, brakes and safety precautions" for Turkey has prevailed. Nobody needs to be afraid of this negotiating process. The Austrian course of ‘proceeding on sight’ has proved its worth," said Plassnik.
Austria’s "patient and steadfast" approach in the "epoch-making process" of Turkey’s rapprochement with the EU and in the entire enlargement context had proved right, said the Foreign Minister. Austria’s preference had always been for a "tailor-made partnership, say in the form of a European-Turkish Community. We think this is a more realistic option, without wanting to rule out accession forever," added the Foreign Minister. The agreement of the EU Foreign Ministers on a negotiation break would help Turkey to proceed vigorously with the launch of further reform steps. "However, one thing is clear: there will be no deductions, rebates or discounts for Turkey as far as its legal obligations are concerned," emphasised Plassnik, referring to Turkey’s shortcomings with regard to the implementation of the Ankara Protocol, which provides for the inclusion of all new EU Member States in the customs union.
At the same time the Foreign Minister made it clear that Turkey was an essential partner of the EU. "We are very interested in a Turkey that is committed to European values and lives up to them without compromise," said Plassnik. To this end, a review mechanism had been agreed upon for the negotiations with Turkey for the next three years which would monitor the status of implementation of the Ankara Protocol. In this connection "positive incentives" were also to be expected in connection with the Cyprus issue. Plassnik recalled the efforts undertaken during Austria’s EU Presidency, which had adopted a financial package of some 260 million euros as a practical contribution to improving the economic situation in the northern part of the island.
The forthcoming meeting of the European Council will focus on the enlargement debate and the question of the EU’s absorption capacity. "Such a debate at the highest level is not something that should be taken for granted," said Plassnik, referring to the fact that this was also largely due to Austria’s efforts. The European Union’s capacity to absorb new members today was a clear precondition for any enlargement process but this had not always been the case. "We fought persistently and successfully for the acceptance of the EU absorption criterion," continued Plassnik. The fact that there had been a separate EU Commission report on absorption capacity confirmed the Austrian course of " a policy of prudence and circumspection." In future, so-called impact assessments would be the major tools for assessing the concrete effects of enlargement.
The new differentiated European enlargement policy and "objective negotiating culture" would already make itself felt in the course of the forthcoming enlargement by Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January 2007. For the first time a system with controls and safety precautions had been developed which would continue to be effective after accession. In this way it was ensured that the necessary efforts would be taken to eliminate shortcomings in delicate chapters such as legal certainty and combating corruption. "This is an important new development that proves the EU’s ability to learn from the enlargement process," said Plassnik.
A differentiated approach would also be used in the accession negotiations with Croatia. The disconnection of Croatia’s negotiations from the negotiations with Turkey had been confirmed by the successful completion of the second negotiation chapter with Croatia. "Each country will be judged by its own progress and may embark on the European course in accordance with its possibilities. This is a positive and convincing signal," concluded Plassnik.
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