LUXEMBOURG, AP -European Union foreign ministers failed to persuade Austria to drop its objections to Turkey”s bid to join the club, and crisis talks that went into the early morning hours Monday were set to resume later in the morning, diplomats said.
The EU had long planned to start entry talks with the predominantly Muslim Turkey on Monday, the fulfillment of a promise first made as far back as 1963. But Austria has refused to agree to the EU”s negotiating mandate — putting the talks on hold and the 25-member bloc into crisis.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday that rejection at this stage would harm "a project for the alliance of civilizations." He said he hoped European leaders would "show political maturity and become a global power, or it will end up a Christian club."
Austria has suggested a "privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full membership. However, the draft negotiating mandate calls for full membership, with no mention of a lesser partnership — and Turkey has promised to reject Austria”s alternative.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said Friday there were widespread European concerns about Turkish membership, but acknowledged the pressure on Austria was mounting.
"We are in favor of starting the negotiations, no question about it, but in order to be able to consent we need an improved text," she said. "It is not particularly easy."
A poll released in Vienna on Sunday said 73 percent of Austrians think cultural differences between Turkey and the EU are too great to warrant granting Turkey membership.
Across the EU, that view is held by 54 percent, according to the poll published by the Austrian news agency. No margin of error was given.
Turkey”s shaky human rights and poor economic past have kept it from joining the EU as a full member in the past.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was chairing talks, held a second bilateral meeting with Plassnik, but she failed to withdraw her country”s objection to starting the negotiations with Ankara. All 25 EU governments have to approve a negotiating mandate before talks can begin.
The issue is complicated by a potential tradeoff involving Austria”s demands to restart Croatia”s frozen membership bid. The EU froze entry talks with Zagreb in March, saying Croatia was not fully cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in handing over war crimes suspects.
EU ministers were to review Croatia”s bid on Monday.
Straw, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he understood Austria”s concerns but said the European Union last year made Turkey a promise: to discuss membership if Ankara meets key entry conditions on reforms.
"These conditions have been met," he said.
In recent years, Turkey has implemented key political and economic reforms. Erdogan said Turkey would continue its present policies regardless. "No EU decision will deviate Turkey from its course" toward further democracy and reforms, he said Sunday.
"The EU and the European people have always seen Turkey as a European state, " Straw said. "The heavy responsibility rests on all member states. … I don”t want to contemplate the possibility of a veto."
He noted that Turkey was a strong ally during the Cold War. "No issues were then raised that it had an Islamic majority," he noted.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned Sunday he would not show up in Luxembourg the following day if Turkey is offered anything less than full EU membership.
"We are not striving to begin negotiations no matter what, at any cost," Gul told the Yeni Safak newspaper. "If the problems aren”t solved, then the negotiations won”t begin."
Turkey became an associate EU member in 1963. It is also a member of NATO and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.
Any membership negotiations for Turkey are expected to take at least a decade.