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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 07:57 GMT
Chirac backs Turkish EU entry bid
MEPs vote Yes to Turkish accession talks
Turkey said the European Parliament's vote was 'meaningful'
French President Jacques Chirac has spoken out in favour of Turkey joining the EU ahead of a summit on Thursday to decide when membership talks can begin.

Mr Chirac, in a bid to sway a sceptical public, said on French TV that Turkey should be able to join the EU if it meets entry requirements in full.

He stressed that any of the EU's 25 members could veto Turkish entry and that France reserved "the last word".

However, he said that the EU would benefit from having Turkey aboard.

"Does Europe, and particularly France, have an interest in Turkey joining it?" he asked in a live interview on French TV.

"My answer is... 'Yes, if Turkey totally meets the conditions we impose on any candidate for our union'."

Turkey is aiming to become the largest country ever admitted to the EU, and the first nation with a majority Muslim population.

But the negotiations are expected to be protracted - possibly lasting up to 15 years.

If Turkey's application is successful, the EU's frontier would extend deep into the Middle East.

'Meaningful'

Mr Chirac's comments came hours after the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling on EU leaders to open entry talks with Turkey "without undue delay".

Jacques Chirac (L) being interviewed on French TV
Chirac faces internal French opposition to Turkish membership

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the vote as "very meaningful" but warned that his country would walk away if confronted by any "unacceptable conditions".

The EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday will decide whether, when and under what conditions to give Turkey a start date for membership negotiations.

Mr Chirac said that partial membership for Turkey - as suggested by some of his own supporters in France - was not an option.

"To ask a country like Turkey, a great country with a rich and long history, to make a considerable effort to reach a risky or partial result is not reasonable," he said.

If Ankara met all its accession obligations, he continued, it should not be turned away at the last moment.

"We will take a very heavy responsibility for history if, faced with a people who tell us 'We have adopted all your values, all your rules, all your objectives', we tell them, 'No thanks'," the French leader said.

A poll published earlier this week by the Le Figaro newspaper suggests that two thirds of French people oppose bringing Turkey into the 25-nation club.

'Red lines'

The MEPs' resolution - passed by 407 votes to 262 - also called for close monitoring of Turkey's progress in improving human rights, religious freedom and women's rights and said talks should be suspended at any time if Ankara wavers in these areas.

HAVE YOUR SAY
A Turkish entry to the EU will be disastrous for the European dream of integration and for Turkey itself
Matt Koffer, USA

Amendments suggesting Turkey should be offered a special partnership instead of full membership, or that it should be rejected altogether, were defeated.

The BBC's Chris Morris says the number of votes against the motion reflects considerable misgivings in parts of Europe about starting membership talks with such a large, poor and overwhelmingly Muslim country.

While Turkish officials welcomed Mr Chirac's statement, they have their own conditions for entering the body.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has outlined four "red lines" his country will not cross, including the imposition of permanent conditions on eventual membership.

There are concerns within the EU over the impact on EU labour markets of Turkey's 71 million-strong population, which is predicted to rise to over 80 million by 2015.


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