France ‘Free’ to Block Turkey’s EU Membership: Jacques Chirac

PARIS (AFP)–France reserves the right to veto Turkey’s entry into the European Union "at any moment," President Jacques Chirac told state television Sunday in an interview during a state visit to Beijing.

The French parliament would be consulted on the issue of Turkey’s membership–he promised–stressing that in negotiations with Ankara "at any moment France can withdraw–can apply a veto–or can refuse."

"At that moment–the negotiations end. We are thus totally free," said Chirac–who has previously stated he personally favors Turkey’s eventual membership to the European bloc.

"In any case–the French will have the last word through a referendum if it goes to that point," he said. "And it’s a matter that will not be discussed for another 10 or 15 years at the earliest–if it is at all."

The ambiguity of Chirac’s stance on Turkey reflected differences between deputies in his ruling UMP party on the issue.

The party has declared itself opposed to the idea of Turkey–a poor–predominantly Muslim state–joining the European Union–which itself already took on 10 new members this year–most of them former Soviet states from eastern Europe.

Chirac has declared he would put the Turkey membership question to a referendum–apparently in a bid to separate the controversy from efforts to have the French electorate adopt an EU constitution.

In related news–a recent poll published by the French newspaper Liberation showed that a projected 75% of the population oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU and would vote against such a referendum.

Taken after the European Commission’s recommendation last week in favor of accession talks–the survey indicated that–among the 25 member EU states–France is the most firmly opposed to Turkey’s bid.

Compared to 75.3% figure projected by the poll–64% of the supporters of the opposition Socialist Party–and 75% of the supporters of President Jacques Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) stated that they would opposed the referendum. Voters between the ages of 18 and 24 stood as the only group–whose majority–65.1%–would favor Turkey’s efforts.

The survey was published on Tuesday–two days before a debate in the national assembly called in response to growing pressure from parliamentarians for a chance to discuss the issue ahead of a final decision on starting Turkish accession talks expected from EU leaders on December 17.

However–despite calls from many deputies–the debate will not be followed by a vote. Both of France’s main parties are deeply split on the matter. Although Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande has voiced his support for Turkey’s accession–a large bloc within the party–led by former prime minister Laurent Fabius who said earlier this month that "Turkey is geographically not part of Europe," stand firmly against it.

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