French Parliament Debates Turkey’s EU Accession Bid

Turkey ‘not ready’ yet to join EU according to French Prime Minister

PARIS (AFP)–French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said on Thursday that Turkey is not ready to join the European Union but should pursue its membership bid; Raffarin was speaking during a parliamentary debate on the issue that has polarized the country.

"Neither Europe nor Turkey" are "today ready for Turkey to join" the bloc–he told parliament in his opening remarks–but said "Turkey’s request is not illegitimate."

The debate was set to highlight major argumen’s raging in France–and in other EU countries–over Turkey’s four-decade-old bid to become a member of the expanding European Union.

However–in an unusual approach criticized by many MPs and underlining the deep divide over the issue–the exchange was not to be put to a vote.

The debate was being held ahead of an EU summit on December 17 at which EU leaders will decide how to act on a recommendation from the bloc’s executive arm to open accession talks with Ankara.

President Jacques Chirac has pronounced himself in favor of Turkey’s accession. At the same time–Chirac has bowed to public concern by promising to put the matter to a referendum and pointing out that France could veto negotiations at any time.

Many in his ruling Union for a Popular Movement party–including ministers–have declared themselves opposed to the future inclusion of a country that is predominantly Muslim and comparatively poor.

The opposition Socialist party is similarly divided–while a newspaper poll earlier this week found that 75 percent of people would vote against Turkish entry in a referendum.

Turkish MPs visiting France this week expressed surprise at the resistance to their country’s bid.

"Some French politicians are asking whether our civilizations are compatible–whether Turkey belongs to the European continent–but we haven’t changed our religion–our size or our geographical position," said Onur Oymen–of the center-left People’s Republican Party.

"Turkey today is better prepared than several other countries recently admitted to the EU–especially in the fields of economy–banking and finances," said Ibrahim Ozal–of the ruling Justice and Development Party. Chirac is to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at three-way talks October 26 in Berlin hosted by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Germany also has a sizable–mainly conservative faction opposed to Turkey joining the bloc–although not on the scale as France.

France is said to be pushing for any start date for accession talks to be put back until at least the second half of next year–fearing it could hit the government’s drive to get the EU’s first constitution accepted by referendum.

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