EU Says No Date for Turkish Membership Talks

COPENHAGEN (Reuters)–Current European Union president Denmark on Tuesday declined to reveal a start date for EU membership talks with Turkey–but praised its recent human rights reforms.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the 15-nation bloc would make its final assessment on whether Turkey has fulfilled the political requiremen’s for membership talks in a European Commission report due out on October 16.

"I clearly acknowledge the progress made by the Turkish government and that it is a major step forward," Rasmussen said after talks with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz.

Earlier this month the Turkish parliament approved reforms aimed at conforming to EU membership human rights criteria which included lifting the death penalty in peacetime and ending bans on education and broadcasting in the Kurdish language.

"The reforms demonstrate very clearly our commitment to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria without any reservations," Yilmaz said. "Our expectations are that accession negotiations should be opened as soon as possible. I’m confident that under the Danish presidency–Turkish EU relations will enter a new and irreversible phase.”

Denmark holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of December 2002 when enlargement talks with up to 10 mostly east European countries are expected to be closed in Copenhagen.

Rasmussen stressed that Turkey can start membership talks if and when it fulfills the political requiremen’s–the so-called Copenhagen criteria–for joining the bloc.

"Fulfillment is not only a question of legislation but also of implementation in practice and this is why our final assessment will depend on the more detailed study made by the Commission in the progress report due in October," he said.

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