Representatives of European Union governments failed to agree on a strategy for membership talks with Turkey, prolonging the diplomatic brinksmanship hours before the scheduled start of negotiations.
At an emergency meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers remained divided over Austria's demand that the EU offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” as an alternative to full membership in talks due to start at 5 p.m. today.
Last-minute postponement or cancellation of the talks “would represent a failure for the European Union,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday as he arrived to chair the meeting.
Failure to salvage Turkey's entry hopes today would throw a cloud over EU efforts to build a bridge to the Islamic world, and would leave Turkey without an economic mooring as it strives to boost its standard of living to western levels.
“We are making some progress, not enough yet,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told reporters after the talks broke up early today.
Turkey's benchmark stock index has risen 37 percent since the EU put Turkey on the path to membership in December. Turkey is counting on the EU's embrace to boost its $300 billion economy and bring in more foreign investment.
“It looks like it's going to go down to the wire, just like it did back in December,” said Alex Garrard, a partner at Peloton Partners LLP in London. “I don't think people seriously believe that the talks won't go ahead, but clearly if there was a hitch and the Turks were to stamp their feet and walk out then Turkish markets would sell off across the board,” reports Bloomberg.
According to Forbes, it is unclear exactly what change of wording will satisfy Austria. The current draft accepted by all 24 other EU states says that EU entry is the main aim of the talks. Vienna would like that replaced, or at least complemented, with another formula.
As all member states must agree on the text, it holds a virtual veto.
Britain's Straw, whose country has long been a staunch supporter of Ankara's EU ambitions, underscored the geopolitical significance of offering Turkey membership of the rich European club.
'We need to see Turkey in the European Union and not pushed the other way,' he said.
Speaking at a press conference around 1.00 am (2300 GMT Sunday), Straw said that trilateral talks between the EU presidency, Austria and the EU commission would continue into the early hours.
EU ministers will then resume formal talks on Monday morning.