Chirac backs Turkey’s EU bid, with conditions

16th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 16 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac's statement that Turkey deserved EU membership - but only if it met a series of conditions - given on the eve of a key Brussels summit on the issue Thursday was seen in France as an attempt to reassure a jittery public.

PARIS, Dec 16 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac's statement that Turkey deserved EU membership - but only if it met a series of conditions - given on the eve of a key Brussels summit on the issue Thursday was seen in France as an attempt to reassure a jittery public.

"Yes, but," was how Chirac summed up his position on national television late Wednesday, explaining that adhesion could only occur after up to 20 years of negotiations and each current EU state, including France, could slam the door at any time.

The French would have the "last word" in a referendum, he said.

Those comments were simply a reaffirmation of his public stance taken since April, but their utterance the day before the EU summit was seen as key.

The summit, gathering the leaders of the 25 member states of the European Union, was expected to give the green light to the start of negotiations with Ankara, which has made significant economic, social and legal reforms in a bid to win a place in the EU.

But Chirac's ruling conservative UMP party has pronounced itself against EU membership for Turkey, a large, relatively poor Muslim country, and surveys in France show most of the public was also against.

A poll carried out by the CSA institute and published this week showed 50 percent opposed and only 37 percent in favour. Other surveys have shown as many as two out of three against.

Faced with such a delicate political situation, Chirac, who has not said whether he will seek a third mandate in 2007, had to tread a narrow line between standing up for Turkey and reassuring French voters.

"The question that has to be asked is: has Europe, and especially France, an interest in seeing Turkey join? My response is yes, but," he said on commercial station TF1.

"Yes, if Turkey fulfils all the conditions imposed on any candidate to join our Union," he said, giving the three principle criteria as a commitment to peace and stability, democracy and economic and social development,

But he added that "each nation, and notably France, maintains from the start of the negotiations up to their end - meaning over the 10, 15 or 20 years needed - the right to stop everything."

Offering Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership, as some have suggested, is not an option, he said.

Chirac had previously evoked a negotiating period of just 10 years. Suggesting talks could drag out twice as long with no certain result was latched upon by the French media Thursday.

"Even though he was forced to steer a straight course, Chirac seemed hesitant sometimes to pull on the oars," the left-leaning newspaper Liberation said of the interview.

It noted that Chirac's real reason for reiterating his position at such a crucial time was to save another referendum he has proposed for next year, and which he holds more dearly: a plebiscite on adopting the European Union's first constitution.

The French president fears that though two-thirds of voters are in favour of the constitution, they may reject the constitution as a way of registering their opposition to Turkey's EU membership.

In his interview, Chirac said that referendum "must not be distracted from its very important goal by considerations which have nothing to do with it."

Le Figaro, a conservative daily that was the only national newspaper to put Chirac's interview on its front page, said that the event was forced upon the president because he was "completely out of step with his country's public opinion and isolated within his own camp."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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