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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Islam 'must not cloud Turkey bid'
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
Mr Balkenende says he has no problem with Turkey being Muslim
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said Islamophobia must not affect the possibility of Turkey's entry to the European Union.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, he attacked Muslim groups, which he said were sowing hatred, and promised new anti-terror measures.

Mr Balkenende was outlining the plans of the Dutch presidency of the European Union over the next six months.

The newly enlarged parliament is meeting for the first time this week.

BBC European affairs correspondent William Horsley says Mr Balkenende's comments were unusually harsh and blunt from a European head of government, especially one who speaks for the whole EU.

Same criteria

The Dutch prime minister said Turkey's possible entry into the EU troubled many European citizens.

But he said the decision on whether to open EU membership talks with Turkey, due to be taken in December, must be strictly on the basis of whether or not Turkey meets the agreed standards of human rights and democracy.

Raising barriers to any particular religion does not fit in with Europe's shared values
Jan Peter Balkenende,
Dutch Prime Minister
There was not a problem that Turkey was a Muslim nation, he said.

"The decision must be arrived at honestly, under the ground rules to which we previously, in 2002, firmly committed ourselves," he said.

"That means strict application of the criteria laid down, but without inventing new criteria.

"We must not allow ourselves to be guided by fear, for example of Islam."

He said the problem was the misuse of religion to sow hatred and to repress women.

Repatriation

The train bombing attacks in Madrid in March, which killed 191 people, have been blamed on Islamic militants.

Mr Balkenende also promised to see through tough new measures to curb terrorism more effectively by forging closer co-operation among the police and security services of all EU states.

Turkish mosque
The Dutch PM says Turkey's entry troubles many Europeans
As part of this policy he said the EU would develop common procedures for forcibly repatriating illegal immigrants and for better integrating people from minority communities inside Europe.

Mr Balkenende said EU citizens had a right to expect protection against terrorism and organised crime.

Our correspondent says that with unusual frankness the Dutch leader acknowledged a widespread popular mistrust among ordinary Europeans of the European Union structures and the integration process.

European politicians had to show that the EU really belongs to them, he said.

The meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is the first since the EU expanded to include 10 new member states.

MEPs have already elected Spanish socialist Josep Borrell as the new president of the parliament.

They will vote on a European Commission leader on Thursday.




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