VILNIUS - Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis roused indignation among opposition politicians after he declared that Lithuania approved of European Union leaders' decision to begin membership negotiations with Turkey. Several parliamentarians criticized the statement as hurried, with some going so far as to say that Valionis caved in to pressure from the United States on the issue.
Lithuania was expected to issue an official position on the negotiations with Turkey before the Dec. 17 EU summit in Brussels. Valionis said that the Baltic state approved the start of negotiations with Turkey, though he also implied that such talks would assume a positive outcome for the Muslim nation.
"We agree that Turkey should begin negotiations, and we also emphasize that the country should meet the same criteria Lithuania did," the foreign minister said. He also implied that Turkey would have to undergo a long negotiation process, which might take up to 15 years.
Lithuanian MEPs, however, took issue with Valionis' statement. They claimed that since the minister has been preoccupied with the formation of Cabinet and parliamentary affairs in recent weeks he did not devote a reasonable amount of time to the complicated issue of Turkey's membership in the EU.
Eugenijus Gentvilas, a Liberal Centrist MEP, said he deplored the lack of public debate in Lithuania on the Turkish question, which was rammed through the domestic agenda just as the EU Constitutional Treaty (which Lithuania was the first country out of 25 to adopt).
The Conservatives were the only party to express discontent with Turkey's EU membership, although MEP Vytautas Landsbergis urged to approve the start of membership negotiations.
Gentvilas, too, finally agreed to start talks with the Muslim country. "Different Turkish governments took one step after another in modernizing the country and in fighting Islamic fundamentalism. If the EU does not start negotiations now, the [radical] groups are certain to rise up and sweep away the present government," Gentvilas said.
Were that to happen, "Europe will have an Iran or Iraq-like monster in the neighborhood, where economic reforms will be terminated and the human rights forgotten for good. Keeping in mind that Turkey is a NATO country, the monster would be capable of brandishing some high-quality munitions," Gent-vilas said.
Aloyzas Sakalas, a Social Democratic MP, urged the EU should take a slower pace in starting the negotiations on Turkey's accession.
"The EU Constitutional Treaty declares that members of the EU come only from European countries. Turkey, just like Russia, is an Eurasian country," Sakalas said. "What shall we do when a similar Eurasian country, Russia, declares its wish to become an EU member and points a finger at the Turkish precedent?"
He said that Lithuania's position is essentially determined by the U.S.A., and for a long time now the country was acting in accordance to America's will. He suggested that the goal of establishing a democratic Muslim country in Iraq with the help of tanks could perhaps be accomplished in Turkey instead using straightforward diplomacy.
In mid-July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted a poll that showed that 31.8 percent of the respondents supported Turkish membership in the EU, while 12.2 percent were against it.