Blair Hails 'Historic' Deal on Turkey
Prime Minister Tony Blair last night hailed an historic deal paving the way for Turkey to become the EU's first Muslim member state as 'an immensely significant day for Europe'. He said the agreement, brokered after hours of wrangling in Brussels, sent 'a very important signal right across the world'. Britain has long been Turkey's biggest champion in its bid to join the EU, and Mr Blair himself will now chair the start of the country's accession talks next October when, coincidentally, the UK holds the EU presidency.
The deal was struck on the second day of a fraught summit in Brussels - more than 40 years after Turkey first knocked on Europe's door seeking club membership.
Agreement almost slipped away as Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan haggled for better terms for launching talks than those on offer from the EU.
He was under pressure to give formal recognition to Turkey's old enemy Cyprus before the launch of accession talks could be agreed.
Instead, and against the wishes of a furious Cypriot government, he was allowed to leave Brussels on a promise to recognise Cyprus later - as long as it is before the accession talks begin next October.
During one angry exchange over the Cyprus issue in a Brussels hotel late on Thursday night, Mr Erdogan told the Dutch Premier chairing the summit, 'Are you prepared to let the views of 600,000 Greek Cypriots take precedence over the views of 71 million Turks?'
When all other EU countries decided the dispute should not spoil a deal, Cyprus backed down. Apart from that Mr Erdogan was forced to accept two other contentious conditions.
The first is that Turkey now negotiates on the basis that full membership is not guaranteed to be the outcome - a caution never before included in a candidate country's EU accession negotiation terms.
The second is that, even if full EU membership is the result, Turkey will be subject to possible restrictions on mass migration of Turks into other EU countries.
The wording of the accord warns that 'safeguard clauses' will be 'permanently available' to restrict the free movement of Turkish citizens if necessary.
This unprecedented restriction is included because Turkey is so large (population 71 million and rising fast) that the impact of the normal free movement rights given to any EU citizens to live and work anywhere else in the Union could be destabilising. …