European chief says now is ‘the moment’ to start membership talks

Associated Press Worldstream
December 15, 2004 Wednesday

European chief says now is ‘the moment’ to start membership talks
with Turkey

EMMANUEL GEORGES-PICOT; Associated Press Writer

The European Union should open membership talks with Turkey
immediately even though the mostly Muslim country has not yet met all
the requirements, the president of the European Commission said
Wednesday.

“In 10 years, Turkey won’t be the same Turkey as today … and
certain fears that exist today can be put aside,” Jose Manuel Barroso
told France-2 television station, speaking a day before EU leaders
were to meet in Brussels for an expected decision Friday on Turkey’s
bid.

“I believe this is the moment,” Barroso said, adding that Turkey has
made “an enormous effort to come join the European Union” and its
membership “would be very positive for Europe.”

The interview appeared aimed at persuading the French to go along
with EU membership talks for Turkey. The issue is highly divisive
here, and President Jacques Chirac was to address it in a TV
interview Wednesday night.

Chirac himself favors full membership for Turkey but has said that
this could take 10 to 15 years, while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre
Raffarin, a centrist, is skeptical.

A poll published in France on Monday in the daily Le Figaro showed
that 67 percent of those questioned opposed Turkish membership in the
EU. Chirac’s governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement,
favors a “privileged partnership” with Turkey – far short of being a
member of the EU.

Barroso dismissed the idea of giving Turkey a “privileged
partnership,” saying that such an arrangement is “not just” and
risked being seen by Turks as discriminatory.

He stressed that opening talks does not signify automatic membership,
although that is the goal.

“Turkey poses specific problems for us,” he said. The Turks “are not
yet in a position to become members.”

Turkey, with some 70 million people, “is a very big country, a
country which still has a considerable gap in development.”

Chirac planned to use his TV appearance Wednesday night to respond to
French concerns, an official of the presidential Elysee Palace said,
speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said that Chirac will stress points he will be looking
for at the summit, such as the mention in the conclusion of a “strong
link” between the EU and Turkey if it appears during membership talks
that Ankara is unable to meet European demands.

France also wants the question of recognizing an alleged genocide
perpetrated by Turkey against Armenians nearly a century ago to be on
the table during negotiations, according to the official.

Turkey has been accused of killing as many as 1.5 million Armenians
during a 1915-1923 campaign to force them from eastern Turkey. Ankara
vehemently denies this.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has said France would not demand that
Turkey’s recognition of the “tragedy” in Armenia be a condition for
EU entry.

The European Parliament on Wednesday called on EU leaders to open
membership talks with Turkey “without undue delay.” However, it urged
Ankara to carry out more democratic reforms and moves toward
recognizing Cyprus and to acknowledge the genocide.

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS