Chirac hedges decision over EU referendum

29th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 29 (AFP) - Two days before the EU embraces 10 new members, French President Jacques Chirac welcomed the historic move as an "opportunity" for France, but warned Turkey had not yet met the conditions to join.

PARIS, April 29 (AFP) - Two days before the EU embraces 10 new members, French President Jacques Chirac welcomed the historic move as an "opportunity" for France, but warned Turkey had not yet met the conditions to join.

Speaking at a rare news conference at the Elysee presidential palace, the president sought to reassure the French public about the EU's expansion after opinion polls showed people were concerned about the effects of a new EU on immigration, employment and social welfare.

Enlargement was "more than ever an opportunity for us and our future," Chirac said. "The Union is taking a giant's step. It is opening up new horizons.

"With its 450 million inhabitants, the EU must become an economic power of the first rank, in which growth and investment will create a new dynamic for employment. It is a process in which everyone will be a winner," he said.

A survey this week showed 62 percent of the public in favour of enlargement, but more than half were worried about its implications. Some 49 percent of those consulted said they were "sceptical" or "opposed" to the European Union.

Chirac said an agreement on a European constitution was "today necessary and possible" in order to allow a 25-member union to "operate more effectively."

But he said it was too early to decide whether a constitution should be put to the French people in a referendum or approved only by parliament.

And he urged the French to vote in the European elections on June 13 to give French euro-deputies the mandate to defend the country's interests at the EU's parliament.

Asked about the prospects of Turkish entry into the EU - an issue that has sharply divided opinion in France and other European countries - Chirac said that while he favoured Ankara's eventual accession the conditions were not yet ripe.

"I believe that Turkey has a European vocation. But the conditions for its entry are not fulfilled today," he said.

The EU has said it will consider setting a date by the end of the year for the start of membership talks with Ankara. But the president said negotiations for Turkish membership would last at least 10 years.

Turkey "has always been associated with European civilisation," and is an "important and loyal member of the Atlantic alliance," Chirac said.

"It is in our political interest to have a modern, stable, democratic Turkey which has made the choice of secularism since 1924, a Turkey agreeing to share our aims and values.

"Turkey has made considerable efforts to adapt to our criteria. But legal texts are one thing. Another is their proper application on the ground. From this point of view there is still much progress to be made," the president said.

According to this week's opinion poll, some 61 percent of the French are against Turkish entry into the EU. Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement party (UMP) has also said it is opposed.

© AFP

                                                 Subject: French news

 

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