Blidt rejects calls to halt EU expansion

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt Wednesday criticised calls for setting Europe's borders, warning the EU would only lose influence and gain instability if it shut the door to potential members.

“To close the door to Turkey, to the western Balkans or to the East is to open the door to instability in Europe itself – on the very threshold of the European Union,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in the International Herald Tribune.

“I do believe that even more of Europe, in an even larger area, is perhaps the only way of meeting the new challenges now mounting.”

Bildt argued that the EU had helped engineer the successful transformation of former Soviet central Europe through enlargement, and that continued expansion was needed for Europe to maintain its influence in the region.

He trashed calls by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to define the eventual borders of the EU, without ever naming the man seen as the conservative frontrunner to succeed President Jacques Chirac next year.

“Drawing big lines on big maps of the east of Europe risks becoming a dangerous process,” wrote Bildt.

“We could easily see forces of atavistic nationalism or the submission to other masters taking over when the light of European integration – however vague or distant – is put out.

“If that happens, the lines on the maps will certainly not protect us from the consequences of what happens beyond them,” he wrote.

While a long-awaited European Commission report on Turkey due to be published Wednesday was expected to give Turkey more time to end its trade standoff with Cyprus, Bildt expressed concern that accession talks with Ankara could be halted.

He noted that the current problem is in part due to the rejection by Greek Cypriots in 2004 of a UN-backed plan to end the division of the island, and added that Turkey’s other integration problems could be solved in the decade that membership talks are likely to take.

“We have a strong strategic interest in the eventual membership of Turkey in the European Union … we must neither ignore our long-term strategic interests nor forget where the key responsibility for the 2004 failure lies,” he wrote.