Barroso Urges ‘Frank’ Debate on Turkey’s EU Entry Bid

BRUSSELS (Bloomberg/AP)–European Commission President Jose Barroso called for a "frank discussion" of Turkey’s prospects of joining the European Union–saying opposition to Turkish membership helped defeat the EU constitution.

Resistance to admitting an overwhelmingly Muslim country with a standard of living about a quarter of the EU average played a role in French and Dutch voters’ rejection of the constitution–designed to strengthen the EU’s global voice.

"We should discuss seriously the signals that were sent by the electorate regarding Turkey," Barroso told a Brussels press conference on June 22. "We need to have a frank discussion on that matter."

The commission will outline its strategy on June 29 for entry talks with Turkey–a decade-long process due to start Oct. 3. All 25 EU countries will have to approve the negotiating road map.

Barroso said that "for the time being," the EU governmen’s have not altered the bloc’s commitment to Turkey. Polls in Germany suggest Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will be ousted in an election in September by Angela Merkel–who favors a "privileged partnership” with Turkey that stops short of full membership.

Turkey has a population of 70 million people–almost equal to the total of the 10 countries that joined the bloc last year.

Romano Prodi–who as Barroso’s predecessor championed Turkey’s entry–has changed his mind about Turkish membership–according to an interview with the Gazzettino newspaper.

"I now believe that there are no longer the conditions for Turkey to join the EU in the short or medium-term,” Prodi told the daily newspaper. "We need to rethink things."

French President Jacques Chirac on June 17 urged the EU to re-examine the planned enlargement–calling for a special summit on how the process can continue "without having the institutions capable of making the enlarged union function efficiently."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Europe’s politicians to fulfill its promises to Turkey.

"The negotiations must start on Oct. 3," he told his deputies in a speech at the Ankara-based parliament. "We are implementing the steps that we promised. I believe that the EU will overcome the current problems that it’s experiencing."

The US and Britain have urged the EU to embrace Turkey to help democracy in the Middle East–which Turkey borders.

Meanwhile–Olli Rehn–the EU commissioner overseeing the expansion plans–told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee "We need to pace ourselves after last year’s big bang when the 10 new states joined the union."

Concerns over further EU expansion were believed to be one of the reasons why French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution.

Rehn made it clear that the EU hopefuls will not be able to join the Union before they have fully met the requiremen’s for membership.

For Turkey to begin accession talks in October–Rehn urged it to address the Armenian genocide issue. "Turkey has problems tackling the truth–which is always the basis for reconciliation," he said.

He also stressed that Turkey must first enforce legislation aimed at significantly improving human rights in the country and sign a protocol extending its existing customs agreement with the EU to all new member states–including Cyprus.

The European Commission warned Tuesday it would postpone EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania if they failed to introduce essential reforms–and said the European Union must ‘pace itself’ after 10 new members joined last year.

"My message to (Romania and Bulgaria) is to fulfill the conditions of accession to the letter," said. "I hope that they will make it in time–but I would not hesitate to recommend a postponement of their membership."

Romania and Bulgaria are scheduled to join Jan. 1–2007–while Croatia’s membership has been postponed because a fugitive former general wanted by the war crimes tribunal remains at large.

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