By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The European Union supports the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border but does not view it as a precondition for Turkey’s membership in the bloc, according to a spokesman for EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.
The official, Diego De Ojeda, told RFE/RL this week that the EU is not in a position to force prospective member states to normalize relations with third countries despite its strict membership requirements. “That’s not a precondition neither for Turkey nor anybody else,” he said from Brussels.
“We are firm believers in regional cooperation and that is valid for that region as well as any other region in the world. But we are not in the business of pushing anyone [to ensure that].”
De Ojeda also downplayed implications of the European Parliament’s repeated calls for Ankara to lift the economic embargo which it imposed on Armenia more than a decade ago over the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The most recent such resolution adopted last year stated that improved relations with Armenia stem from the so-called Copenhagen criteria detailing conditions for Turkey’s entry into the EU. Similar language is contained in a draft resolution on EU policy towards the South Caucasus to be debated by the EU legislature next month.
De Ojeda argued that it is the EU’s member governments and the executive Commission that have final say on foreign policy issues. “The European Commission answers to the European Parliament,” he said. “So we obviously take into account the European Parliament’s views. However, the main body deciding on EU foreign policy is the Council of Ministers.”
Both the EU and the United States have for years urged Turkey to drop its preconditions for the normalization of ties with Armenia. The current Turkish government signaled last year a softening of its Armenian policy but has not yet taken practical steps in that direction.