PARIS (Combined Sources)–France’s new foreign minister sought on Thursday to ease growing concerns in Turkey that Paris wants to block its accession to the European Union.
He said French policy on Turkey’s membership had not changed even though he rattled Turkish financial markets Wednesday by telling parliament Ankara was not yet ready to join the EU and the ruling conservative party said it opposed rapid accession.
"The French government pays attention to all that is said in the internal political debate–starting with the biggest party in parliament–but our line on this remains the same," said Michel Barnier–who was appointed only last week in a government reshuffle.
He reiterated that the EU would take no decision on whether to open accession talks with Turkey until the executive European Commission releases a report later this year looking at whether Ankara has made sufficient progress on human rights.
"It is the European Commission which will say objectively if and when accession talks can start because there are currently no accession talks with Turkey," he told reporters at the Foreign Ministry.
The European Commission in November noted "significant progress" by the Turkish government in meeting EU conditions for membership. It cited–however–several areas where more needed to be done–including improving the country’s judicial system and human rights record.
The 15-member EU takes in 10 new members–mainly from eastern and central Europe–on May 1. Turkey hopes to be in a later wave of accession.
Barnier made clear in parliament Wednesday that Turkey had not yet met the conditions for membership. "Turkey does not respect the conditions–even if it is preparing to do so," he said–adding that there was "no question" of Turkey’s joining the EU "under current circumstances."
Barnier’s remarks triggered a furor in the Turkish press and helped drive Turkish financial markets lower on Thursday.
"The cock has crowed too soon," said the headline in the Aksam daily.
"When Turkey has fulfilled all the criteria for membership and opened the way to a solution in Cyprus–France drops its mask. The government has declared its true intentions," it said.
However–a Turkish official downplayed Barnier’s commen’s–saying they simply reflected the current state of affairs.
"We know that we still have some shortcomings which must be dealt with–and we will deal with them before December," the official told Reuters in Ankara.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters–"Various exaggerated words can be said for reasons related to domestic politics."
EU leaders will decide in December whether to open accession talks with Turkey–the only membership aspirant that has so far been denied a seat at the negotiating table.