Cablegate: Austria: Leaders Express Skepticism About
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS VIENNA 001969
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS, EUR/ERA, EUR/SE AND INR/EU
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ECIN AU TU EUN
SUBJECT: AUSTRIA: LEADERS EXPRESS SKEPTICISM ABOUT
TURKISH EU MEMBERSHIP - BUT NO PLANS TO BLOCK TALKS
This message is sensitive but unclassified.
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Austria's political establishment is
underlining its deep skepticism of Turkish EU membership.
First, Chancellor Schuessel (conservative People's Party
- OVP) reiterated the position he took at the December
2004 EU summit: that the EU should conduct "open-ended"
negotiations with Turkey. Social Democratic leader
Gusenbauer struck a similar chord. Parliamentary
President Khol and Finance Minister Grasser recently
expressed reservations about Turkish membership.
However, Foreign Minister Plassnik confirmed on June 13
that Austria continued to support opening negotiations
with Turkey on October 3. End summary.
2. (SBU) In the wake of the French and Dutch votes
against the EU constitutional treaty, Austrian leaders
appear to have achieved an unusual degree of consensus
regarding Turkey's EU aspirations. Views run a narrow
gamut from frank skepticism to outright rejection of
Turkish EU membership. SPO leader Alfred Gusenbauer said
on June 4 that the EU should not expand further until it
has a constitution. The right-wing Freedom Party has
been stridently against Turkish EU membership, and is
expected to make this a campaign issue in state elections
this fall. Among Austria's parties, only the Greens have
been consistently favorable to Turkey joining the EU.
3. (SBU) In a June 4 interview, Chancellor Schuessel
reiterated Austria's position at the December 2004
summit: that the EU should conduct "open-ended"
negotiations with Turkey. Schuessel noted that at the
time he had been rather isolated in this stance -- but no
longer. Schuessel also recalled his suggestion that in
the event of a concrete accession offer to Turkey,
Austria should hold a referendum on Turkish entry.
4. (SBU) The Austrian press prominently reported a
recent statement by EU External Relations Commissioner
Ferrero-Waldner (who is from Schuessel's OVP) to the
effect that EU expansion should slow down to allow EU
citizens time to digest the most recent enlargement
round. However, on June 13 Ferrero-Waldner issued a
partial retraction, saying she had not intended to call
into question the October 3 start date for negotiations.
5. (SBU) Parliamentary President Andreas Khol (OVP)
expressed similar reservations in an interview with the
news weekly "PROFIL" that appeared on June 11. Khol said
Turkish membership was not realistic within the next 15
or 20 years. Khol said the EU Commission bore
responsibility for pronouncing Turkey "fit for Europe,"
although the general population in Europe did not share
6. (SBU) In a June 12 meet-the-press TV appearance,
Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (independent) made no
secret of his opposition to Turkish entry: "I am against
accession negotiations with Turkey," Grasser said, adding
that Turkey was "not qualified for membership." Turkish
accession would "overstrain" the EU, he added.
7. (SBU) Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, speaking on
the margins of the June 13 meeting of foreign ministers
in Luxembourg, quickly distanced herself from her
colleague's comments. She said Grasser had made his
views known when the cabinet discussed Turkish accession,
but that the GoA had decided to back the opening of
talks. She saw no reason for Austria to change its
position. Plassnik stressed that October 3 was the
beginning of "open-ended" negotiations with Turkey with
"a multitude of reactive options on the part of the EU."
8. (SBU) COMMENT: With skepticism about the pace of EU
expansion spreading in European capitals following the
French and Dutch "no" votes on the constitution,
Austrians feel vindicated about the critical stance they
have taken all along regarding Turkish EU membership.
Leaders of nearly all stripes are now making an explicit
connection between the difficulties encountered in
ratifying the constitutional treaty and enlargement,
especially Turkey's accession. Austrian statements for
domestic consumption will likely continue to diverge
somewhat from GoA positions taken within EU fora. This
does not mean, however, that Austria will try to derail
the October start for accession negotiations.