Turkish Prime Minister Seeks France’s Support Ahead Of Summit

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
July 20 2004

Turkish Prime Minister Seeks France’s Support Ahead Of Summit

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started a three-day
visit to France aimed at gaining support for Ankara’s bid to join the
European Union. RFE/RL reports that Turkish officials attach great
importance to this visit, noting that opposition to Ankara’s goal of
EU membership remains high in France.

20 July 2004 — Before leaving Ankara yesterday, Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear his visit would focus on
his country’s efforts to join the 25-member European bloc.

Although Ankara applied for entry into the EU in 1987, it was granted
candidate status only in 1999. And five years later, accession talks
have yet to start — a delay mainly due to European concerns about
Turkey’s poor human rights record.

The European Commission in October will review reforms implemented by
Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party since it came
to power two years ago. Ankara hopes a positive assessment will
prompt EU leaders to set a date for accession talks when they meet in
December.

Before boarding a plane for Paris, Erdogan said, “I will explain [to
French leaders] what steps Turkey has [already] made on its way
toward the EU…and reiterate its commitment to bringing its
legislation in line with EU laws.”

Erdogan, who is traveling with several ministers and a large business
delegation, met today with French President Jacques Chirac at the
Elysee Palace. No details of the talks were immediately available.

Addressing journalists after meeting his French counterpart
Jean-Pierre Raffarin yesterday, the Turkish leader said he is
counting on support from Paris when EU leaders meet in December to
decide whether to open entry talks with Ankara. “We talked at length
with the [French] prime minister about the EU summit next December
and we hope all the support France has lent us on the European issue
— notably through the intermediary of President Jacques Chirac —
will continue in the future,” Erdogan said.

Yet France, where Turkey’s accession into Europe has largely
dominated the recent campaign for EU parliamentary elections, remains
divided over the issue.

The Paris-based left-wing “Liberation” daily noted today that Turkey,
which has already secured the support of most European capitals, sees
France as the biggest obstacle remaining on its road to Brussels.
With the notable exception of the Greens, all French political
parties have either voiced opposition to Ankara’s entry into the
European bloc, or refused to take a firm stance on the issue.

The strongest opposition comes from right-wing nationalist groups and
the moderate, center-right Union for the French Democracy party. They
say they are concerned at the prospect of nearly 70 million Muslims
joining the EU and claim neither history nor geography justifies
Turkey’s claim.

The opposition Socialist Party generally supports Ankara’s membership
bid and hails the significant reforms made by Erdogan’s government.
But it believes conditions have still not been met for Turkey to join
the bloc and cautions against hasty decisions. The Socialist Party
also says a precondition for Ankara’s bid should be its recognition
of the killing of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians during
World War I as genocide.

Even in Chirac’s Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) party there is no
consensus on the issue. Three months ago, the top UMP leadership said
it was opposed to Turkey’s becoming a EU member. The move then forced
Chirac — a longtime advocate of Ankara’s accession — to cautiously
enter the fray.

“I am convinced Turkey is destined to become a member of Europe. But
I am also convinced that its entry into the [European] Union will be
possible only under certain conditions that, as of today, are still
not met,” Chirac said.

In an interview with Marc Tronchot of France’s Europe 1 private radio
station, the French foreign minister today gave a similarly cautious
assessment. While praising Turkey’s efforts to meet conditions
required to join the EU, Michel Barnier warned against Ankara being
overly optimistic.

“We have to tell the truth: Turkey is not going to join the European
Union tomorrow morning. Turkey has still a long way to go before it
happens. Yet, it has been on this road for some time, preparing
itself and making progress,” Barnier said. He made it clear his
remarks were also meant to reassure those in France who believe
Turkey is not ready to join the bloc.

Talking to reporters on his way to Paris, Erdogan yesterday
acknowledged that Ankara’s membership bid may be heavily influenced
by European public opinion. “At [last month’s] NATO summit in
Istanbul, Chirac in person told me that 60 to 70 percent of France’s
public opinion was in favor of Turkey’s joining the EU,” he said.

The Turkish leader added that he hoped France’s political leaders
would eventually heed their voters’ opinion and voice support for
Ankara’s EU bid.

(Turkish TV, Anadolu, “Liberation,” Europe 1)

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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