Turkey’s EU Hopes Leap as Brussels Sees ‘No More Obstacles’

BRUSSELS (AFP)–The European Commission gave Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU a huge boost–saying it saw "no more obstacles" in its way towards a "clear recommendation" on starting EU entry talks with Ankara.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen–who is to publish an October 6 report on Turkey’s progress–said his concerns–notably over a disputed penal reform bill–had been allayed in talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan–meanwhile–pledged to push through the delayed legislation "as soon as possible," with efforts focusing on an extraordinary session of the Turkish parliament called on Sunday to rush the reforms through.

"We have been able to find solutions for the remaining outstanding problems," Verheugen said at a joint press conference with Erdogan after talks at a Brussels hotel.

He recalled that during a visit to Turkey this month to assess its progress towards meeting EU membership criteria–he expressed concerns about two key issues: reform to the penal code and charges of systematic torture in Turkey.

"My conclusion is that there are no more obstacles now," he said–adding: "From my point of view there are no further conditions which Turkey must fulfill in order to allow the commission to make a recommendation."

Verheugen’s long-awaited October 6 report will form the basis for EU leaders to decide at a mid-December summit whether or not to start EU membership negotiations with Ankara.

He has long been widely expected to deliver a positive assessment. But a row over the penal reform–and specifically proposals to make adultery a criminal offense–has raised serious question marks in Brussels in the last few weeks.

"The assurance I got today from my friend Mr. Erdogan will allow me to make a very clear recommendation," Verheugen said.

The Turkish leader–smiling as he shook hands with Verheugen for the cameras–also expressed satisfaction after the talks.

"I’m very happy with the result of this meeting–which has been very productive," said Erdogan. "I believe that this meeting is going to prepare a very positive foundation for the progress report of Turkey," he said.

Erdogan recalled the reform legislation already passed–and underlined Ankara’s determination to implement it.

"We have taken important steps on reforms–and now we are following with important steps in implementing them," he said. "We are very determined to do this … to implement all the reforms seriously."

EU officials said that Erdogan had promised Verheugen that the bill would be adopted without a controversial amendment aimed at making adultery a criminal offense–a move the European Union said would seriously compromise Turkey’s hopes.

European Commission head Romano Prodi–whom Erdogan met shortly after his talks with Verheugen–promised that the October report will be "fair and objective."

Almost simultaneously with Erdogan’s talks in Brussels–officials in Ankara said the parliament will meet in extraordinary session on Sunday to debate the disputed penal code.

Parliamentary sources in Ankara said the decision to convene parliament at the weekend was made in Brussels as part of assurances Erdogan gave Verheugen in their talks.

Erdogan said Sunday’s session will discuss three key issues–including the penal code. "The executionary articles will be discussed and passed in the parliament on Sunday," he said.

Turkey’s main opposition party hailed the government move. "We are happy with the result–this is what we wanted," Kemal Anadol of social-democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Later Thursday Erdogan met leaders of the European Parliament–where he was due to hold a press conference at the end of the afternoon.

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