Turkey that joins EU will be different from today’s Turkey, says foreign minister in Prague

Whether to allow Turkey to become a member is one of the most divisive issues facing the European Union, a debate that was stoked recently when the new US president called for Turkish accession. On Tuesday, Turkey’s progress towards that goal was on the agenda in Prague, where its foreign minister held talks with EU officials.

Carl Bildt, Olli Rehn, Ali Babacan, Egemen Bagis and Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTKCarl Bildt, Olli Rehn, Ali Babacan, Egemen Bagis and Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK A few weeks after Barack Obama backed the mainly Muslim state’s bid to join the European Union, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ali Babacan, held talks in Prague on Tuesday with senior EU officials. Representing the Czech presidency of the bloc, the country’s foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg played down the US president’s call. Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005, and he said the country was already on the road to becoming a member of the EU.

“That’s why we were here. So I do think President Obama’s call is very nice. But he called into open doors.”

Since formal talks began Turkey has opened only 10 out of 35 chapters in the accession process – eight others have been frozen due to the Turks’ position on the divided island of Cyprus. Flanked by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, Minister Babacan said, however, that Turkey was on the right track.

Egemen Bagis (Turkey's chief negotiator) and Ali Babacan, photo: CTKEgemen Bagis (Turkey's chief negotiator) and Ali Babacan, photo: CTK “Looking at how much Turkey has changed during the last five or six years, it is not very difficult to extrapolate, it is not very difficult to foresee how much Turkey can change more within the next five, six, seven years. And the country which is going to join the EU is not going to be today’s Turkey. Yesterday’s Turkey versus today’s Turkey are almost like two different countries. Tomorrow’s Turkey versus today’s Turkey are also going to be like two different countries.”

Be that as it may, some EU states are resolutely opposed to Turkey joining. France, for instance, has blocked five chapters directly linked to membership. Karel Schwarzenberg said these things can change.

“In the 17th century when central European countries all together fought fierce battles with Turkey, during the Ottoman offensive in Europe, France was practically an ally of Turkey. In the 19th century, as you know, in the Crimean War, France was an ally of Turkey. And now they are opposing it. You see, alliances and attitudes come and go and change, and sometimes we see that even during our lifetime.”