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Outcome of French elections will greatly affect EU constitution debate, Turkish membership

Outcome of French elections will greatly affect EU constitution debate, Turkish membership

The outcome of Sunday's French presidential elections will greatly affect the EU's troubled relations with Turkey and the bloc's tortuous efforts to salvage the European constitution.
The two candidates offer very different exits from the two-year-old stalemate over the charter. And they have opposing views on Turkey's path to European Union membership.
As France occupies a crucial place in the EU, "we are living a defining moment for Europe," says Annemie Neyts, a Belgian Liberal in the European Parliament.
Victory for conservative Nicolas Sarkozy will be seen as the best chance to quickly rescue badly needed EU reforms through a "mini-treaty" _ rather than full constitution _ to prevent bureaucratic gridlock in a bloc that has ballooned to 27 members and may soon absorb half a dozen more.
By contrast, socialist Segolene Royal wants negotiations for a whole new, much more social constitution to be put to voters across the EU when they elect a new European Parliament in June 2009.
Her option exceeds the ambitions of many EU capitals and those of French and Dutch voters who rejected the charter in 2005 referendums because they objected to the EU's ivory tower image, its rapid expansion and _ especially in France _ its embrace of globalization.
Sarkozy's mini-treaty idea appears more likely to be accepted at this point.
"There is no appetite for new referenda (and preserving) the substance of a constitutional treaty," says Sebastian Kurpas, an analyst at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.
The keenest election observer will be Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, whose country holds the EU presidency.
At a June 21-22 summit, she wants EU leaders to commit to an ambitious timetable for an alternative to the stricken charter, which was approved by 18 nations but rejected by two. It requires unanimous ratification.
Turkey's bid for EU membership has been contentious from the outset and remains so, with human rights issues a particular concern. The present strains between Turkey's pro-secular military and the Islamic-rooted government have prompted the EU warn Turkey to reduce the political influence of the army and to insist on respect for state institutions.
Ankara began EU entry talks in October 2005, but they were halted a year later over Turkey's refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 between an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south and an isolated Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north.
Sarkozy opposes Turkish membership in the EU, preferring a "Mediterranean Union" that would include Turkey and other Muslim countries.
"We must see Europe's relations with Turkey through this Mediterranean Union," says Sarkozy. "If Europe wants to have an identity it must have borders and, therefore, limits."
On Turkey, Royal echoes the view of the European Commission. Turkey "can join Europe if it satisfies the entry criteria, which are not only economic and financial, but also democratic," she says.
As France was engrossed in its election campaign, other EU governments have been quietly airing their views on the constitution's future.
Like Royal, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries want to preserve as much as possible from the constitution as drafted.
They argue the EU needs a full-fledged charter that provides for a bill of rights, a president and foreign minister and new majority-voting rules to accelerate decision-making to give the bloc a more assertive global role.
Britain, the Netherlands and Poland are minimalists, like Sarkozy. Their approach, says British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is one that is "effective and practical (for) a Europe that is a union of independent states cooperating and working together."
Minimalists want EU nations to cooperate on issues relevant to Europeans _ energy, jobs, migration, asylum and organized crime _ and dismiss talk of a European Constitution as highfalutin nonsense that reeks of a European "superstate."
All that's needed, minimalists say, is simply amending the EU's 1957 Treaty of Rome in its current form.
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Associated Press Writer Constant Brand in Brusels contributed to this report


Updated : 2021-04-11 15:47 GMT+08:00