Top EU aide says Giscard was right on Turkey

"In Europe we have a thing called freedom of speech,"

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing was right to say Turkey was not a European country and its entry to the European Union would be the end of the bloc–a top European Commission aide said on Saturday.

In a letter published in Saturday’s Financial Times newspaper–Corrado Pirzio-Biroli–who is chief of staff to Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler–responded to an article criticizing Giscard d’Estaing.

"In my view–Mr. Giscard d’Estaing is right and has a sense of history–and it would be devastating if his view was not heeded," he said in the letter.

The commen’s are likely to infuriate Turkey–which put forward its candidacy for the European Union in 1999. It has been pressing for a date to begin accession talks when EU leaders hold a summit in Copenhagen next month to wrap up the current phase of enlargement.

The 76-year-old Giscard d’Estaing–who is drafting a constitution for the EU–caused a furor earlier this month with his commen’s–including a statement that those who backed Ankara’s candidacy were "the adversaries of the European Union."

Pirzio-Biroli said argumen’s about Turkey being Muslim and too big and backward were not enough to keep Turkey out of the European Union.

". . . the main reason many EU supporters would prefer Turkey to stay out is cultural: 95 percent of it is non-European. This is the overriding issue," the letter said.

A spokesman for Fischler said Pirzio-Biroli’s views were a private opinion and did not reflect the Commission’s official policy towards Turkey.

"In Europe we have a thing called freedom of speech," the spokesman’said.

Turkey installed Abdullah Gul–a strong advocate of Turkish European ambitions and close US ties–as prime minister on Saturday as his party announced sweeping plans for economic and social reform to meet EU standards.

Gul is deputy leader and a moderate in Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has its roots in political Islam.

Two years ago a letter from Pirzio-Biroli–written when he was the EU’s ambassador to Vienna in 1993–resurfaced and made waves because of its description of Austria’s far-right populist Joerg Haider as "charismatic–even fascinating."

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