BRUSSELS (AP)–French President Jacques Chirac said on Tuesday that Turkey must undergo a "major cultural revolution" before entering the European Union (EU)–and reiterated that France would hold a referendum on admitting Ankara to the bloc.
Chirac’s commen’s represented the tough road ahead in Turkey’s membership in the 25-nation EU. It took last-minute wrangling after two days of arduous talks between EU foreign ministers to overcome Austrian objections to start the negotiations.
The entry talks are expected to last for at least 10 years before the EU can absorb Turkey and stretch its borders to the Middle East. There is broad opposition among Europeans to admitting the poor–predominantly Muslim nation of 70 million people.
"Will it succeed? I cannot say. I hope so. But I am not at all sure," Chirac said at a news conference in Paris.
It will be "a considerable effort" for Turkey," he said. "It is a major cultural revolution," that will take "at minimum 10 to 15 years."
He reiterated that Turkey’s membership would need to be approved by the French in a referendum. Austria also plans such a vote–and other countries may also decide to hold one.
"The French will have the last word–as it should be in a democracy," he said. "We will see when the time comes."
In Turkey–the only reaction to Chirac’s commen’s–which aired on Turkish television–was from the Culture Minister Atilla Koc’s office saying he was reviewing them. Akif Beki–spokesman for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–was not immediately available for comment.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair–who currently holds the EU presidency–also said negotiations would take a long time–and would mean a "very big change" for the Europe and Turkey.
"It will be an issue of controversy for years to come," he told reporters in London.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Turkey’s entry is "neither guaranteed nor automatic."
"Turkey must win the hearts and minds of European citizens. They are the ones who at the end of the day will decide about Turkey’s membership," he said. Although the EU held a middle-of the night ceremony in Luxembourg to formally start the talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–it will take nearly a year before the real technical negotiations get under way.
On Octoer 20–EU experts will start a broad "screening" of Turkey’s rule policies to see whether they meet minimum requiremen’s to start specific talks in 35 areas–everything from food safety rules to minority rights.
Turkey then faces a final review from all EU governmen’s who have to unanimously approve talks to begin in these policy areas.
The negotiating mandate says that if the EU finds "a serious and persistent breach? of the principles of liberty–democracy–respect for human rights–and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law," the EU may suspend the negotiations.
One significant political issue that remains unresolved is Cyprus. Turkey does not recognize EU member Cyprus–and is the only country to recognize a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the divided Mediterranean island.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi–appearing at the Paris news conference with Chirac–said shutting the door to Turkey would have been unpardonable–like rejecting a suitor. All EU members had agreed in December to launch entry talks with Turkey on Oct. 3. But last week–Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik suggested a "privileged partnership" instead–questioning the EU’s ability to absorb Turkey. Ankara furiously threatened to walk away from the EU rather than accept negotiations leading to a lesser partnership.
Plassnik eventually accepted language in the EU’s terms for membership stating that "the shared objective of the negotiations is (Turkey’s) accession."
Although Turkey belongs to NATO–the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe–its shaky human rights record and poor economic past have kept it from becoming a full EU member. Ankara recently has introduced key political and economic reforms–and now wants the EU to make good on its promise to bring it into the bloc.