The Swiss government has adopted a wait-and-see approach ahead of historic membership talks between the European Union and Turkey.This content was published on December 18, 2004 - 12:06
The EU and Turkey agreed on Friday to begin negotiations next year on the Muslim nation joining the Union.
The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said the government’s position would depend on the results of the entry talks between the EU and Turkey. Switzerland is not a member of the EU.
She added that if the Turks joined the EU, it would change bilateral relations between Turkey and Switzerland, but would also open up the Turkish market.
The bilateral accords between Switzerland and the EU would be extended to Turkey, as well as a 1972 free-trade agreement.
Calmy-Rey said Switzerland would also have to consider extending the existing free movement of people accord with the EU.
The foreign minister warned that Switzerland would not let Turkish workers flood the market.
“If Turkey joins the EU, we would insist that the free-movement agreement be applied progressively to Turkish citizens,” she said.
Should it join, Turkey would be the most populous member of the Union, with an estimated population of 86 million by 2020.
Supporters of Turkish entry argue that the EU cannot delay the issue because Turkey is of enormous geopolitical interest to Europe. But opponents fear it would bring a Muslim pole of influence.
Calmy-Rey believes the Muslim nation could join the EU. “The Turks have shown that Muslim religious beliefs can be compatible with European values such as democracy and a secular state,” she added.
The foreign minister also reckons that Turkish membership would help stabilise the Middle East and reinforce Europe’s political and economic role.
Switzerland’s political parties are divided over the latest developments. While on the left, the Social Democrats and the Greens have welcomed the decision to open talks, others are more cautious or even hostile.
Doris Leuthard, president of the centre-right Christian Democrats, warned that Turkey still had to make major steps forward before it could join the Union.
The rightwing People’s Party, which is opposed to Switzerland joining the EU, fears that Turkish membership would cause huge problems.
“It would extend the Union’s borders as far as Iraq and Iran,” said Gregor Rutz, the party’s general secretary.
swissinfo with agencies
Over 80,000 Turkish citizens live in Switzerland.
9,000 also have Swiss citizenship.
In 2003 Switzerland was the sixth-biggest foreign investor in Turkey, spending over SFr1 billion.
Switzerland was also the seventh-biggest exporter to Turkey, with goods and services worth SFr1.6 billion.
On December 17, the 25 members of the European Union agreed to begin membership talks with Turkey in October next year.
The agreement skates around Turkish recognition of the Greek Cypriot state.
But the Turkish prime minister has agreed to extend its customs agreement with the EU to the Union's ten newest members, which include Cyprus, before the talks begin.
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