Denmark Notes Turkey Reforms Holds Back on Date

DESPITE ITS REFORMS–TURKEY DOES NOT YET LIVE UP TO THE POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS REQUIRED FOR A CANDIDATE TO START ACCESSION TALKS

COPENHAGEN (Reuters)–Current EU President Denmark praised Turkey on Tuesday for its progress in political reforms but indicated that EU leaders were not ready to give Ankara a date for starting membership talks.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks seemed likely to disappoint the leader of Turkey’s new ruling party–Tayyip Erdogan–who is in Copenhagen on a tour of EU capitals to drum up support for Turkey’s EU membership bid.

Erdogan–head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)–said earlier in Helsinki that the European Union would arouse Muslim suspicions that it was a "Christian Club" if it did not give Turkey a starting date for accession negotiations.

Giving Turkey a starting date would have a "positive effect" on the way the Muslim world viewed the European bloc–he told a news conference after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen.

After flying to the Danish capital–Erdogan heard Rasmussen praise recent Turkish reforms but indicate they had not been in place long enough for the EU to decide when membership negotiations with Ankara should begin.

"The reforms carried out in Turkey over the last year have been impressive. Turkey has taken a major step forward in the fulfilling of the political criteria," Rasmussen told a joint news conference after an hour of talks with Erdogan.

"A decision on the next stage of Turkey’s candidature will be taken in Copenhagen," he added–referring to the December 12-13 EU summit. "…I think it will be a good decision for the European Union and for Turkey," he said.

But he reiterated the EU view that–despite its reforms–Turkey does not yet live up to the political and human rights standards required for a candidate to start accession talks.

"As far as a date for the start of accession negotiations is concerned–my answer is clear: Turkey can get a date if and when Turkey fulfills the political criteria."

Diplomats have said EU leaders may opt for a "date for a date" solution by agreeing on a date to review Turkish progress but not taking the full step of committing the EU to start membership talks with Ankara.

Erdogan said 80 percent of Turks backed the government’s bid to join the EU and his main objective was to make sure the Copenhagen summit would give Turkey a date for accession talks.

"We are expecting to be given a date to start negotiations …if a decision is taken at the European summit in Copenhagen that Turkey would start negotiations in 2003–it would facilitate everything," he said.

In Helsinki–Erdogan said earlier "We don’t see the EU as a club of Christians and we don’t want to see it as a club of Christians–but if we cannot get a date from Copenhagen–suspicions will emerge."

"This is very important to prove that the culture of Islam and democracy can indeed co-exist and be in harmony," he said.

Erdogan said reforms in the past 18 months and planned reforms by the new government–including stopping human rights violations–justified this.

Lipponen said "Turkey is really on the way to meeting the Copenhagen criteria–and at Copenhagen we will have to give a positive signal and message that we can support the reform work of Turkey and strengthen Turkey’s membership (aspirations)."

European leaders have said Turkey would improve its chances of winning a date for talks if it cooperated with UN efforts to reunite Cyprus–divided along ethnic lines since 1974. Erdogan said Turkey was ready for talks on the UN peace plan for reuniting the island. "Turkey is absolutely ready to negotiate a peace plan. We find the current plan a negotiable plan," he said. "We want a fair and permanent solution."

Greece and the Greek Cypriot government have already agreed to talks on the United Nations Cyprus plan.

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