Brussels, 13 November 2006 Press release

Plassnik: "It would be sensible to shift down a gear"


Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on the debate on Turkey in the General Affairs Council

Brussels, 13 November 2006 - "We have been marking time for some time now," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik regarding the negotiations with Turkey on the sidelines of the Council of Foreign Ministers. "During Austria’s Presidency we finally succeeded in opening the first chapter of negotiations with Turkey," said Plassnik with reference to Turkey’s shortcomings identified by the European Commission in its progress report on the accession negotiations.

"Last year the EU formulated clear expectations regarding Turkey’s reform process and the full implementation of its obligations resulting from the Ankara Protocol. At present, however, I see no willingness on the Turkish side to make progress. If Turkey does not become active by December, no movement on the part of the EU can be expected either," emphasised the Foreign Minister.

Open and rational discussion was of the essence, said Plassnik. "The EU must not shy away from this debate. One year after the start of negotiations it should be possible to address this topicwith less emotion and more objectivity. It is not easy for either side. . Ultimately, it is not just a technical detail but the EU’s credibility that is at stake," said Plassnik. The Foreign Minister regretted that the Commission had not yet offered operational proposals, which would have "contributed to a more relaxed and objective discussion."

"The EU should have the courage to conduct a thorough political debate. This takes time. If there is no long-term breakthrough on the Cyprus issue in the next few weeks, it would be sensible to shift down a gear and take a break in the negotiations," stated the Foreign Minister.

"This does not mean that we are closing the door to Turkey," said Plassnik. "We are interested in the closest possible relations with a Europe-oriented Turkey that is prepared to contemplate reforms. There is a need at present to take off the pressure and to lessen the growing tensions instead of intensifying them. This is in the interests of both the EU and Turkey." In this connection the Foreign Minister recalled the efforts under Austria’s EU Presidency with regard to the Turkish-Cypriot community, referring among other things to the agreement on the Aid Regulation, which released 259 million euros for northern Cyprus.

The Foreign Minister welcomed the Commission’s first report on the EU’s capacity to absorb new members. "This report reflects Austria’s persistence, which has firmly anchored this theme as a guiding principle in the European political consciousness," said Plassnik. It contained good ideas that needed to be developed. "For us it is important to ensure that this theme has operational consequences at the practical level," emphasised Plassnik.

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