Turkish OSCE veto causes a stir

A serious diplomatic rift has erupted between Austria and Turkey.The Turkish government decided at the weekend to veto Ursula Plassnik’s application for the position as secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The former Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) foreign minister said earlier this year she wanted to take over from Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. The French diplomat’s term ends on 30 June.Turkey argued that the ÖVP MP “does not accept” the country’s European identity. The Austrian was harshly criticised by Turkey during her term as federal foreign minister between 2004 and 2008 due to her opposition to the country’s bid to join the European Union (EU). Austria became a member of the EU in 1995. Turkey has held talks with European leaders about an accession since the 1960s.ÖVP Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said today (Mon) Turkey’s veto was “totally incomprehensible and baseless.”The minister warned Austria will consider very carefully which stand to take on Turkish regards of international meaning from now due to the country’s decision to speak out against Plassnik’s application.Spindelegger also said that he agreed with Turkish President Abdullah Gül that the two countries will not obstruct each other’s nominations of candidates for positions in international organisations when Gül visited Austria last month. The Turkish government vehemently denied that such an arrangement was made.The OSCE decided to put the nomination of a new secretary-general on hold due to the conflict as the appointment must be made unanimously. Reports have it that many diplomats fail to understand Plassnik’s decision to apply for the position as Austrian ambassador in France at the same time.Italy and Portugal, and Turkey also nominated candidates for the job which Perrin de Brichambaut is in charge of at the moment. Austrian newspapers claim today that Plassnik had vital chances to become his successor before Turkey opted to veto her candidacy at the weekend.Turkey’s candidate for the position, Ersin Ercin, hit out at Plassnik as early as March. The diplomat – who currently represents his country in Brazil – told Viennese newspaper Die Presse: “I was the first person to signalise interest in becoming the OSCE’s next secretary-general. Plassnik’s application came at the last moment. She is known as a person who blocks Turkey’s EU integration.”Ercin added: “Many OSCE member states east of Vienna are bewildered. They have the impression that EU countries want to turn the OSCE into an extension of the EU. (…) EU member states think they are immune to criticism. They lecture the rest of the world east of Vienna about the issue of human rights. But Austria is not perfect – nobody is. We should play fair.”Ercin told Die Presse his application had the support of Caucasian countries and states in the Balkan region. He added that “some small EU member states” backed his bid too.The Turkish diplomat said Plassnik was overqualified for the position he was also running for, but added that the “weak point” of her application was that the OSCE has its headquarters in Vienna.”Vienna has benefited enormously from the organisation,” he said, adding that it was widely assumed Austria will not nominate an own candidate.Austria has been reluctant considering Turkey’s interest in becoming a member of the EU for years. The current government coalition of Social Democrats and Spindelegger’s ÖVP has stuck to the same approach to the issue former ÖVP Chancellor’s Wolfgang Schüssel cabinet had shown. Schüssel headed a coalition of the ÖVP with the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and later on with the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) for seven years until 2007.Spindelegger said today Turkey’s veto to Plassnik’s application for the OSCE top job was unlikely to create a change of mind in his party as far as the country’s ambitions to join the EU were regarded. The ÖVP leader once more emphasised that Austria was in favour of a so-called privileged partnership between the EU – which currently has 27 members – and Turkey.Spindelegger and SPÖ boss Werner Faymann has made clear many times that they intended to hold a referendum in Austria if the EU decided in favour of Turkey’s request to join one day. Research group Karmasin found last December that a majority of 61 per cent of Austrians oppose a Turkish EU membership. Around 59 per cent of polled citizens said the same in May 2009.Gül told the Kurier newspaper last month that the privileged partnership alternative was “not an option.””We’ve already got a privileged partnership (with the EU). There’s a customs union. We want to become a full member,” the federal president of Turkey said a few days before meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer in Vienna. Gül added: “The obstacles which have been erected are unfounded and unfair.”Around 113,000 of the 8.5 million people living in Austria are Turks. Another 70,000 have a Turkish migratory background. The Turkish community is expected to be represented stronger than before in the Austrian Islamic Denomination (IGGiÖ) which appealed to the half a million Muslims living in Austria to elect a new leader. Final results of the ballot – which has taken place in the past months – will be released in a few weeks.