EU May Couple Turkey Delay With Symbolic Show of Support

European Union governments weighed proposals to postpone the restart of Turkey’s entry talks, while issuing a political declaration that the process will go ahead after a three-year pause.

Germany floated the compromise after threatening to block the resumption of the membership bid to protest Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s heavy-handed treatment of peaceful dissenters.

“We cannot neglect that we have strategic long-term interests, and we have to weigh everything precisely and make a clever diplomatic decision,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters before a meeting of EU officials in Luxembourg today.

EU governments are trying to salvage the notion that Turkey is en route to membership, both to support the bloc’s closest ally in the Muslim world and to show that EU expansion remains on track.

Even if the process starts moving again, Turkish membership would be far off. Since starting the entry bid in October 2005, Turkey has completed talks in only one of 35 EU policy areas.

Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU negotiator, threatened yesterday to consider “other options” in case the EU aborted plans to restart the talks this week. That threat animated moves toward a compromise on the EU side.

Westerwelle said he had a “very good and constructive” telephone discussions with Turkish officials last night. Turkey’s friends in the EU endorsed the idea of declaring a willingness to the next “chapter” in the EU process, even if the actual talks don’t start as scheduled.

“The important thing is that we take the decision,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in Luxembourg. “Then it’s a question of the timing. Exactly which month that that happens -- before or after the summer -- is not necessarily neither the end of nor the start of history.”

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