Despite thaw with EC, Turkey unlikely to join soon

Turkey is knocking at the door of the ``European club'' after having waited at the doorstep for several years. But despite the recent thaw in relations with Western Europe, the prospects remain dim for Turkey becoming a member of the European Community in the near future. On a visit to Britain last month, Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal was told by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that Turkey should not take any hasty action to join the EC, according to press reports here and in Britain. Interviewed on Turkish television recently, Mrs. Thatcher repeated this view. ``The EC is now trying to absorb Spain and Portugal,'' she said. ``This is going to take some 10 years. In principle we accept that Turkey has the right to apply [for full membership]. But it is better to leave it to time.''

An ``association agreement'' signed in 1963 qualifies Turkey to eventually become a full member. However, a military coup in 1980 led to alienation from the EC, which froze relations -- including $650 million in aid. Individual nations kept their political relations with Ankara low key. Since Ozal led the return to civilian rule in November 1983, Turkey has been working to reactivate and improve ties with West Europe. Signs of the recent thaw between Turkey and Western Europe include:

The decision Monday by EC foreign ministers to grant $9.5 million financial aid to Turkey. The joint Turkey-EC ``association council,'' which has not met for five years, is expected to meet by October.

The withdrawal in December by five European countries of their case against Turkey for human-rights violations from the European Court of Human Rights. The complaint alleging mistreatment of prisoners was dropped in return for a Turkish promise to improve its human-rights record. Since, Turkey has lifted martial law in 58 of its 67 provinces, relaxed press controls, and moved to investigate reports of torture.

Ozal's visit to Britain is seen as significant here because it marked the first official visit by a Turkish leader to West Europe since 1980.

Since his visit to London, Ozal has soft-pedaled on the idea of applying to the EC this year. However, a senior Turkish diplomat says, Ozal apparently wants to apply within 10 to 15 years. For Ozal, as for many Turks, joining the EC is not just an economic issue. It is more political. The daily Cumhuriyet noted recently that ``for people in the left or the right in Turkey, [EC membership] means the country's identification with Europe.'' In fact, most Turks believe that since they are members of NATO, they should also have a place in the EC. Hence, many here would see rejection from the EC as unfair.

``The West needs a stronghold on the Soviet border, but we have to tell them that they should not regard us just as an advanced military post, and that we have the right to be in the community as much as in NATO,'' former Foreign Minister Hasan Esat Isik said recently.

Among Turks, the impression is that the Europeans do not consider Turkey ``as one of them,'' because of the differences of religion and culture. But according to some Western diplomats here, there are two principal factors why the EC keeps its distance from Turkey:

Economically, Turkey lags behind the rest of the EC members. Some countries, especially West Germany, worry that Turkey's membership in the EC might induce an influx of Turkish workers to their nations.

Politically, democracy in Turkey has not proceeded as fast as Europe would like. Europeans are still concerned with the problem of human rights abuses.

Given these factors, it appears that the time has not yet arrived for the EC to open its doors and let Turkey in.

``The best that we can hope for is a revitalization of Turkey's relations with individiual European countries or European institutions like the EC,'' a West German diplomat says. ``This in itself is an encouraging progress. Anything beyond that, is for the future.''

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