Lively Debate on Turks’ EU entry

PARIS (BBC.com)–The French parliament held a debate on Turkey’s entry into the European Union–which has become an increasingly divisive issue in France.

The debate has left many deputies in the ruling party at odds with their leader–President Jacques Chirac.

Chirac–who favors Turkish entry–approved a debate in order to head off mounting anger among conservative MPs as well as opposition lawmakers.

Almost all the main parties in France are split on the issue.

It was an impassioned and sometimes ill-tempered debate–and certainly one of the liveliest seen in the French National Assembly for some time.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin opened it by saying that neither Turkey nor the EU was ready for Turkish membership now–though he said Turkey’s desire for admission was legitimate.

France is deeply divided over whether Turkey really belongs in Europe–geographically or culturally–and some MPs asked directly whether a union founded on Judaeo-Christian principles could or should accept such a large Muslim nation.

Only the Green party is united in arguing unequivocally that Turkey must be welcomed in Europe–to show there is no anti-Muslim sentiment against it–and to anchor the country firmly with the West.

Many others from both left and right suggested compromises–such as an associate form of membership or even a delay to the accession talks.

According to the Turkish newspaper Zaman Daily–when asked whether or not recognition of the Armenian genocide could be a pre-condition–Foreign Minister Michael Barnier said that the subject is not among the Copenhagen Criteria.

Zaman also reported there was division within the Socialist party–with some socialist deputies demanded recognition of the Armenian genocide as a pre-condition while some of the party’s members supported Turkey’s bid.

President Chirac has promised a referendum on the issue in perhaps a decade’s time–in the hope of separating the question of Turkey from next year’s vote on the European Constitution.

As one of the founding EU members–France cares deeply about its future.

Already there is unease in the country that France is losing influence thanks to Europe’s enlargement to the east.

Many worry that expanding to include Turkey as well would spell an end to any hope of deepening EU co-operation to make Europe a superpower to rival the United States.

Several French papers point out how the country’s simmering opposition to Turkey joining the EU has left many MPs in the governing party at odds with President Jacques Chirac–who favors Turkey’s inclusion.

Describing the heated debate in parliament on the issue–Le Monde says this is "a time of deep disagreement" between Chirac and the parties which support him.

Both Chirac’s UMP and its ally the UDF are against Turkey joining the EU.

For Le Figaro–parliament’s venting of feelings "has served to bring to light the divisions that the Turkish question is causing on both the Right and the Left."

Three-quarters of the French are opposed to Turkey entering the European Union and would vote against it in a referendum–according to an opinion poll Tuesday in Liberation newspaper.

Taken after the European Commission’s recommendation last week in favor of accession talks–the survey revealed France to be the most firmly hostile to Turkish membership of all the current 25 member states–the newspaper said.

Overall 75.3 percent of those asked would vote no in a referendum–the poll found. Among supporters of President Jacques Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) the figure was 75 percent–and among supporters of the opposition Socialists it was 64 percent.

Only among the youngest voters–aged 18 to 24–was there a majority of 65.1 percent in favor.

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