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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
EU paves way for Turkey to join
The European Commission has recommended opening talks on the admission of Turkey to the EU - but Ankara must meet stiff conditions, EU officials say.

European Commission President Romano Prodi (right) and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen
Prodi (right) said Turkey would have to improve its human rights record

Commission officials are reporting on the progress Turkey has already made, along with Bulgaria and Romania.

The final decision on Turkey rests with the leaders of all 25 EU member states in December - with accession years off.

The Commission's recommendation is a milestone in an increasingly impassioned debate.

The decision was reached by a "large consensus" among commissioners, one EU official said, but no vote was taken.

There was also no recommended date to start negotiations with Turkey.

EU monitoring

"It is a qualified yes," EU Commission President Romano Prodi told European parliament leaders.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
We want no more than what was done for the 25 members of the EU - that the same criteria and methods be applied
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"It's flanked with a whole series of recommendations for monitoring and verifying what the situation is actually like."

Mr Prodi said Turkey would have to improve its human rights record if the talks were to succeed and warned that Turkish membership was not a foregone conclusion.

It is expected that even if full membership negotiations start soon, Turkey will not be able to join until well into the next decade.

The European Commission also confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania were on track to join the EU in 2007 and Croatia to start negotiations next year.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced the hope that accession negotiations would start in the first half of 2005.

And Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul hailed the EU recommendation as an "historic step".

Forty years ago, the club of Europe held out the prospect of eventual Turkish membership.

Reforms

The Turkish government has already pushed through a huge number of economic and political reforms, particularly over the last three years.

No other country has pleaded at its door and had its honour trampled
Emin Colasan, Hurriyet newspaper

But the Commission is likely to point out that respect for human rights may have improved - but torture, religious discrimination and violence against women are still all too rife.

There also need to be big economic adjustments - from the EU as well as Turkey - given how poor Turkey is and how big its agricultural sector.

To the Turkish government's dismay, the new commissioner in charge of EU enlargement, Olli Rehn, has talked about giving the EU permanent powers to close its borders if large numbers of Turks want to migrate.

In a speech in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had "done its task".

"Now the EU must do its task. They're the ones being tested now. If we don't want a clash of civilisations, but to succeed at reconciliation, Turkey must take its place in the EU."

Even if the EU's officials and politicians say yes, the people may say no.

The French government has announced it wants to hold a referendum, eventually, on whether Turkey should join.

At the moment, popular support in France - as with some other countries - appears weak.

Opposition centres on Turkey's size, its relative poverty and the fact that it is Muslim.




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