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Eu commissioner refuses turkey as eu buffer { March 8 2004 }

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European Union commissioner argues case for refusing Turkey membership
By George Parker and Judy Dempsey in Brussels
Published: March 8 2004 4:00 | Last Updated: March 8 2004 4:00

Turkey should be kept outside the European Union to act as a "buffer" protecting Europe from Syria, Iran and Iraq, according to Frits Bolkestein, a senior EU commissioner.

Mr Bolkestein is part of an increasingly vocal chorus criticising possible Turkish membership, as the EU considers whether to start accession talks with Ankara.

The EU single market commissioner also argues that the former Soviet republics of Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine should also be excluded, to insulate Europe from Russia.

His views come in a new book, The Limits of Europe, published this week, in which Mr Bolkestein also warns that a geographically overstretched Europe would become "little more than a glorified customs union".

The Dutch liberal is one of the most vocal sceptics on Turkish membership among the 20 EU commissioners who must recommend in October whether to start accession negotiations.

However, a majority on the Commission is expected to propose giving the Turkish bid a green light, provided Ankara continues its reforms and helps to reunite the divided island of Cyprus.

Most expect that the EU's 25 member states would then agree at a summit in December to start accession talks. However, Mr Bolkestein's comments reflect deep reservations in many quarters.

Germany's Christian Democrats, the conservative opposition, are among those campaigning to exclude Turkey from the EU, preferring what they call a "privileged partnership", while many French politicians are sceptical or hostile.

The issue is expected to be one of the most heated and politically sensitive in this June's European parliament elections.

In the book, in which Mr Bolkestein explores the political and geographical constraints facing the Union with leading members of the European parliament, Mr Bolkestein says: "In the east, there is a geo-political need for a buffer zone between the EU and Russia, which might be formed by the countries that do not belong to either bloc." He said "a similar buffer" would also be advantageous "in order to cushion the Union against Syria, Iran and Iraq". Mr Bolkestein's officials confirmed he was talking about Turkey.

He also says that once Turkey is a member, it will be hard to deny membership to acountry such as Ukraine.

"The Ukraine is more European than Turkey," he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Mr Bolkestein, who hopes to have his mandate renewed when the Commission stands down in October, qualified the remarks in his book, saying that Turkish membership with the EU could "export stability".

He said in the interview that the extension of the EU to the east would limit further integration, although he said the Union's key economic competences - the single market, trade policy and competition policy - could continue.

Mr Bolkestein, one of the Commission's biggest hitters, says the EU needs to concentrate on its core tasks to reconnect with its citizens, including bolstering economic growth.

In his interview, he criticised France and Germany for launching grand initiatives to boost competitiveness and transform Europe, instead of implementing what had already been agreed.

He said he feared French and German economic reforms had "not gone far enough" and that the so-called Rhineland economic model pursued by the two countries was "responsible for unemployment of 8-9 per cent".

He said it was a "non sequitur" for Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, to champion a "super commissioner" in Brussels to boost economic reform when Berlin had failed to implement most of what the Commission proposed.

He also ridiculed what he claimed was a proposal by Dominique de Villepin, French foreign minister, for "a merger of France and Germany with its capital in Strasbourg".

He said it was a classic example of "Euro blah, blah, blah".

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