Brussels to decide Turkish bid to join EU

AsiaNews, Italy
Dec 16 2004

Brussels to decide Turkish bid to join EU

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan says Europe should prove it is not a
Christian club. France is in favour of Turkey’s entry because it is
in its interest but demands Turkey acknowledge Armenian genocide.
European bishops state that the EU is forgetting Turkish violations
of religious freedom.

Brussels (AsiaNews) – EU heads of government will decide tomorrow
whether to open talks with Turkey over its accession to the Union.
Meantime, the European parliament adopted a non binding resolution in
favour of negotiations by a margin of 407 to 262 with 29 abstentions.
But Ankara’s demand is controversial and has provoked a flurry of
statements by political leaders.

Leaving this morning on his way to Brussels, Turkish Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Europe “has an obligation to prove
that it is not a Christian club” and accept the Turkish bid.

Turkey’s population is 99 per cent Muslim. In the last two years, the
Turkish government has adopted several laws to conform to European
standards but its first bid to join what eventually became the
European Union dates back to 1963.

International observers believe though that, despite changes such as
the abolition of the death penalty and language guarantees for
minorities, Turkey is still a long way from fulfilling the civil
rights obligations demanded by the EU.

Human Rights Watch points out for instance that Turkey must overcome
two major obstacles, namely torture and ill-treatment in police
custody and the safe return of more than 350,000 internally displaced
Kurds forced from their homes in the 1990s.

Religious freedom is also another unresolved problem. Non Muslim
religious groups still lack official legal recognition.

Recently, Mgr Hippolyte Simon, Vice President of the Commission of
the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), speaking
on behalf of Europe’s bishops, said they were surprised that the EU
would open negotiations without linking them to the full respect of
religious rights as the European Commission had stated in its report.

Europe’s bishops said they were in favour of Turkey’s membership
because the rights of religious minorities could thus be recognised
and membership in the EU could prevent the country from coming under
the influence of Islamic fundamentalism.

In a television interview broadcast yesterday, French President
Jacques Chirac said that he was in favour of Turkey’s entry into the
EU “because it is in the interest of Europe, especially France”. Mr
Chirac said he supported Turkey’s demand as long as Ankara “met all
the conditions placed on every candidate for membership”. In Turkey’s
case, this also includes recognising the Armenian genocide of 1915
when 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed.

For some historians, the Armenian genocide inspired the Nazis to
carry out their own policy of mass murder against the Jews.

Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said: “In the
course of the accession negotiations, France will ask for recognition
of [this] tragedy”. However, a Turkish government spokesman responded
saying that “there was no such genocide, so there is no question of
recognising a genocide that did not happen.”

Turkey has always denied responsibility for the slaughter of
Armenians claiming that it was the result of “spontaneous acts of
violence”. (LF)

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