Austria's tough, go-it-alone stance on Turkey's drive to join the European Union had many wondering Tuesday whether the country's EU presidency will be marked by combativeness or compromise.
Austria takes over the bloc's six-month presidency on Jan. 1 from Britain. Its insistence on breaking ranks with the EU's other 24 member states in a failed attempt to get Turkey to settle for something other than full membership drew both praise and scorn.
But Dominique Moisi, a foreign policy analyst at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said the neutral alpine republic strengthened its hand ahead of its presidency.
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and other top officials insisted that Austria deserved credit for daring to stand up and question whether poor, mostly Muslim Turkey belongs in the EU and under what conditions.
The outcome - a decision Monday by the EU's foreign ministers to formally start accession talks with Turkey without guaranteeing membership will automatically result-was "good for the union and good for the citizens," he said. Reaction was mixed in neighboring Germany, where the Handelsblatt newspaper of Duesseldorf saw Austria's upcoming presidency reflected in the Turkey dispute. Polls have shown a majority of citizens not only in Austria but across the EU have serious misgivings about Turkey's eventual membership.
"Austria was the only EU member that brought up the questions and wishes of a wide majority of European citizens," said Peter Hintze, spokesman for Angela Merkel's conservative parliamentary faction. Michael Glos, a senior conservative, said Schuessel's government "deserves great respect" for insisting on applying exacting standards to Turkey's entry bid.
Alfred Gusenbauer, head of Austria's opposition Social Democrats, criticized Schuessel's government Tuesday for having toed the EU line on Turkey for the past year, only to break ranks at the last minute.
Austria's Foreign Ministry has said that Africa, not Turkey, will be a focus of its EU presidency, with an emphasis on improving ties between the two continents and enhancing economic development and conflict prevention. AM