Turkish EU Bid Gets Vocal Support from German French Leaders but Chirac Says ‘Not A Done Deal’

–German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac have reiterated their support for Turkey’s EU bid–saying they will vote for setting a date for the start of accession talks when EU leaders meet at a summit in December.

(International Herald Tribune–AFP–BBC–Reuters–Deutsche Welle)–German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder–with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–said the EU’s December summit should set a date for starting accession talks with Ankara.

Reiterating their support for Turkey’s EU bid–German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac said on Tuesday that they would vote for opening accession talks with Ankara at the Union’s December summit in Brussels.

"We are both of the opinion that on December 17–it is about a decision that should give Turkey the opportunity to negotiate with the Commission with the explicit aim of Turkey joining the EU and with no other aim," Schroeder said after a meeting with Chirac in Berlin–preceding three-way talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Brussels summit–he added–would serve as a probable starting point for negotiations.

Earlier this month–the European Commission (EC) gave its preliminary approval for starting membership negotiations with Turkey. But it also warned that the process could be suspended at any time if Ankara fails to meet its political and human rights reform commitmen’s. The commission’s recommendations are expected to serve as a basis for the EU leaders’ decision in December.

Chirac said on Wednesday that Turkey’s EU membership bid was "not a done deal," although he believed it was in Europe’s best interests–a government spokesman reported after a cabinet meeting.

"It is for Turkey to do the necessary to join the European Union–not for the EU to adapt to Turkey," he was quoted as telling ministers.

"It will demand a considerable effort by Turkey and a lot of time–and it’s not a done deal," he added–telling reporters the talks were likely to begin "in 2005 or around 2005," cautioning that it could take 15 years for Turkey to complete its negotiations and eventually join the Union. "Adapting all of Turkish law to the laws of the EU will demand a very major effort–particularly on Turkey’s part," he said.

Should negotiations fail to result in Turkey joining the EU–another option would be a "system designed to conserve strong links with Turkey"–Reuters quoted the French president as saying.

Significant opposition to Turkish membership exists both in France and Germany–with many worrying that the EU labor market would be flooded. Responding to domestic pressures–Chirac has said Turkey’s EU entry bid will be put to a referendum in his country–an idea which sparked fierce criticism by Turkish officials–who say none of the ten Central and East European countries which joined the Union on May 1 were subjected to such a plebiscite.

"The rules of the game are known and established. You cannot have new rules once the match has begun," Erdogan was quoted as saying in Berlin on Tuesday. He has sought to allay fears of a "clash of civilizations," saying that his country’s membership would instead reconcile Europe and the Muslim world.

Asked about the referendum on Tuesday–Chirac said it would only take place at the end of the negotiation process–voicing confidence that "the problem will provoke much less passion at that time." Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio also voiced support for Turkey’s EU bid on Tuesday–viewing its eventual admission to the club as "a promising venture of mutual interest."

"On the one hand–it would reinforce the national consensus regarding the secular nature of the Turkish state while–on the other hand–it would certainly contribute in the turbulent world which we live in since September 11–for a better perception of Europe in Muslim nations," said Sampaio–addressing a conference on the future of Europe in Lisbon.

Also on Tuesday–Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda met with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul–and voiced support for starting accession negotiations. The two officials also said their countries planned to discuss future visa liberalization.

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