ANKARA: Pushing EU Entry, Turkish PM Starts French Visit

Turkish Press
July 19 2004

Pushing EU Entry, Turkish PM Starts French Visit
AFP: 7/19/2004

by Hugh Schofield

PARIS, July 19 (AFP) – Turkey`s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
held talks in Paris with his French counterpart Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Monday at the start of a three-day visit to push Turkish entry into
the European Union.

Speaking to reporters at Ankara airport, Erdogan said that in his
meetings with French leaders he would “explain what steps we have
taken in order to align ourselves with the EU and where we are in
terms of implementation (of reforms).”

The prime minister, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) has
Islamist origins, was to lunch with President Jacques Chirac Tuesday
after a meeting with business leaders. He will also see the heads of
the three main political parties before leaving Wednesday.

A crucial period is approaching for Turkey`s application bid, with
the European Commission due to give its opinion in October on a
possible opening of negotiations, followed by a decision in December
by European leaders on whether enough progress has been made towards
the EU`s reform demands.

Erdogan was expected to use the French visit to build up support in
the European country which has seen probably the most heated public
debate over the suitability for the EU of a predominantly Muslim and
Asian nation.

While Chirac has indicated in recent speeches that he now regards
Ankara`s progress to EU membership as “irreversible” and spoken of
its “historic and very ancient European vocation,” many in his own
government are deeply opposed to its accession.

In addition opinion polls indicate that a majority of the population
is against Turkey`s admission to the 25-nation body.

“The opposition comes in various forms: fear of Islam and immigrants
at one end, fear of seeing Europe dissolve into a vast free-trade
zone for others,” said Eddy Fougier of French Institute for
International Relations (IFRI).

France also has a large Armenian community of some 450,000 people,
whose pressure in 2001 secured the official recognition by the French
parliament of the Armenian genocide. This remains a highly
contentious issue between Ankara and Paris.

The opposition Socialist party said Monday it supports Turkish entry
“as long as the accession criteria are respected,” but both Chirac`s
ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and its junior partner the
Union for French Democracy (UDF) are sceptical.

“Europe`s historical identity is indissolubly linked — not with the
religious convictions of Europeans today — but with a cultural and
political model fashioned by 15 centuries of Christianity… Turkey
is a stranger to this history,” said UDF Euro-deputy Jean-Louis

The left-wing daily Liberation said in an editorial that the
“sticking-point between Europe and Turkey is not Islam or
Christianity, but the secular basis for social ties and institutions.
Turkey will have its own place in Europe … once it has given up
Sunni Islam as the de facto state religion.”

But it went on in more encouraging vein: “There is no convincing
reason to think that Islam is not in its essence compatible with
democracy and secularism. Helping Turkey to prove this should be an
uplifting challenge for Europeans.”