Turkey seeks Austrian support for EU bid
Ankara yesterday sought the Austrian government's help to make sure the European Union keeps its promises to EU candidate Turkey and also to convince a Turkey-skeptic European public that Turkey deserves to be admitted to the bloc. "We consider Austria not a distant country, but a neighbor across the Danube River," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a press conference alongside his visiting Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger. "We expect friendship from neighboring countries." He added, "We expect Austria to take the initiative, at both the level of EU member states to enable the EU to keep its promises to Turkey, and also at the level of public opinion by telling Europeans about the contributions of (Turkey's EU) process." Spindelegger said his country had initially been suspicious of Turkey's EU accession bid but that this stance had shifted over time. Austria is not blocking the opening of more chapters in Turkey's EU entry talks but is actually standing up to the obstruction of other member states, he said. "We're not focusing on the outcome (of negotiations) but on the process," said Spindelegger. "What's being talked about is the outcome… The process is ongoing. Turkey and the EU will make their own decisions on the outcome once the process is over. Right now it is important to support the process." Davutoglu said despite the injustice of the Cyprus problem and discouraging messages from Europe, the Turkish public still supports EU membership. "In 2004 over 70 percent (of the Turkish public) supported EU membership, but now this stands at around 55-60 percent," he said. "But when they're asked if they believe Turkey will be able to join the EU, this figure falls to 35 percent. The Turkish public still has a strong will to join the EU, but they want to see to see the same will from the Union." Spindelegger said the way many Turks in Austria live has affected Turkey's image there. Davutoglu said a clear distinction must be made between assimilation and integration. "Integration is a social responsibility that helps multicultural societies live in a legal system with respect," he said. "But assimilation means destroying a culture, which is unacceptable."