Something is happening. Although not in Berlin, apparently. The SPD’s steering committe has not (yet officially) accepted what appeared to be an offer from Mr Schröder to pursue coalition strategies that would not include him. Since the SPD’s chairman, Franz Müntefering, explained later that the party’s goal were still a government led by Gerhard Scröder as Chancellor, Mr Schröder’s statement could also be interpreted as tactical move aimed at forcing Angela Merkel to do the same, hoping that the CDU’s more intense internal rivalry might cause her to have to live up to her proposal. Either way, much ado about nothing in Germany today – Meanwhile, in Luxembourg…
Following marathon negotiations, on late Monday afternoon the Austrian government finally withdrew its reservations to the negotiation framework for EU accession talks with Turkey in exchange for only marginal changes to the text. Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik also reiterated that Austria would hold a referendum on Turkish membership should that be the proposed result of the negotiations which will likely last for a decade at least.
While news agencies and their clients – here Spiegel Online (in German) – report that the Turkish cabinet under Prime Minister Erdogan had accepted the EU’s offer and that the Turkish foreign minister Gül were now heading to Brussels in order to attend the – postponed – ceremony marking the official opening of the accession talks, a spokesperson for the British EU presidency would not confirm this.
Interestingly, earlier today, the UN’s war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte – who was not overly excited about Croatia’s compliance with the UN tribunal, especially concerning the case of Croatian General Ante Gotovina, as late as last Friday, and who stated after a meeting with Croatia’s president Stjepan Mesic that “You cannot imagine how disappointed I am,” – on Monday appeared in Luxemburg to declare “I can say that, for a few weeks now, Croatia has been cooperating fully with us and is doing everything it can to locate and arrest Ante Gotovina”.
Ms Del Ponte’s verdict clears the way to continue Croatia’s accession talks with the EU, which have been interrupted since March, predominantly due to Zagreb’s unwillingness to extradite their fugitive General Gotovina. Negotiations could be resumed as early as November, according to a EU diplomatic source cited in a report by the Southeastern European Times.
Austria has long been championing Croatia’s membership cause within the EU – see Doug’s post below – and as the EUObserver suggests – “…the breakthrough on Croatia allowed Austria to retreat from its very hard demands on Turkey’s EU negotiation mandate.”
It will be interesting to follow the reports regarding the development of such a timely reversal in Ms Del Ponte’s judgement. It will be equally interesting to find out which price the Austrian government will have to pay in EU politics for its rather undiplomatic recent behavior when it takes over the EU’s rotating presidency from the UK in January 2006.