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Turkey: EU Commissioner Says 'No More Obstacles' To Entry Talks

The EU and Turkey today resolved differences that threatened to derail Turkey's bid for membership in the bloc. Addressing reporters after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said there were no more conditions for Turkey to fulfill before the European Commission make its recommendation on Turkish accession, expected in early October.

Prague, 23 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Verheugen told reporters in Brussels that the compromise would enable the EU executive to recommend that the bloc begin entry negotiations with Ankara.

"We have been able to find solutions to the remaining outstanding problems," Verheugen said. "So my conclusion is that there are no more obstacles on the table now. From my point of view, there are no further conditions which Turkey must fulfill in order to allow the [EU] commission to make a recommendation."

Reports said as part of the compromise Turkey would act quickly to approve a series of penal code reforms -- and would drop a controversial clause that would make adultery a criminal offense.

The European Commission is expected to issue a report on Turkey's progress toward democracy on 6 October and decide whether a summit of the bloc's leaders should set a date for the beginning of entry talks when it convenes in mid-December.
Turkey has been knocking on Europe's door for decades. Although it applied for membership in 1987, it did not obtain candidate status until 1999 -- a delay mainly due to EU concerns over human rights issues.

Turkey has been knocking on Europe's door for decades. Although it applied for membership in 1987, it did not obtain candidate status until 1999 -- a delay mainly due to EU concerns over human rights issues.

Since taking office two years ago, Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development party (Adalet ve Kalkinma, or AKP) has pushed through reforms aimed at bringing national legislation into line with the EU. Turkey's AKP-dominated parliament has taken steps to curb the influence of the military on politics, reform the judiciary and ease pressure on the country's 12 million-strong Kurdish minority.

Speaking to journalists late yesterday in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey had done its share and now expected a positive reaction from Brussels: "We've already gone beyond the critical threshold required for adjustment to the [EU] Copenhagen criteria. Actually, what happened with these EU adjustment reforms is a civic revolution."

Ankara's recent decision to shelve key legal changes aimed at liberalizing its penal code had triggered EU critics and sparked what Turkish media had described as a "crisis of confidence" between Turkey and the bloc. The EU Commission made it clear that failure to adopt the much-awaited reforms within the next two weeks could affect its conclusions on Turkey's democracy progress.

At the origin of the delay was a controversy over Turkey's plans to reintroduce prison sentences for adultery.

Extramarital relationships were decriminalized by Turkey's Constitutional Court in 1996. But Turkey's conservative AKP cabinet argued that reversing the decision would help better protect family values and strengthen women's rights.

The controversial plans caused a furor in Turkey, with women's groups accusing the government of seeking to impose Islamic law and the main opposition party blaming Erdogan for being under the influence of "religious sects."

Erdogan did not give any details on today's meeting. He simply said the Turkish parliament would convene in emergency session on 26 September to quickly pass the penal code reform.

But an EU official who attended the talks told the Reuters news agency that the Turkish prime minister pledged not to include the controversial adultery bill in the package.

The row had added fuel to the arguments of those who oppose Turkey's accession into the EU. Opinions among European leaders and the general public remain divided over the issue.

Speaking on behalf of representatives of French President Jacques Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement in the European legislature, parliamentarian Jacques Toubon said he believed Ankara should remain outside the bloc.

"We do not believe accession talks with Turkey should begin. The European Council should not make such a decision when it meets on 17 December because we believe that to let Turkey become a member of the EU would contradict our views on the European project and would not be good for Europe," Toubon said.

As evidence that Turkey does not qualify for EU membership, Toubon cited its uneasy relations with its Arab and Iranian neighbors, human rights violations, the military occupation of Northern Cyprus, and its reluctance to recognize the massive killings of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century as genocide.

He also cited security concerns: "What I believe would be good for both the European Union and Turkey would be to have a relationship that would allow Turkey to retain its political autonomy in order to really be the center, the pivot, and the engine of a Black Sea-Caucasus stability pact -- and God knows if the Caucasus and neighboring areas need stability. [Turkey] will not be in a position to achieve this if it is integrated into the EU. It can achieve this precisely if it is in the intermediary position offered by a privileged partnership [with the EU]."

But European Commission president-designate Jose Miguel Durao Barroso today gave Turkey's EU aspirations a cautious boost. Addressing reporters after talks with Chirac, Durao Barroso said that provided the commission issues a favorable recommendation, nothing should prevent the EU from giving Turkey a date for entry talks.

"It is obvious that the EU's [possible] enlargement to Turkey poses an important challenge," Barroso said. "This is a very important problem that must be examined in all it various dimensions. I believe that if Turkey abides by the same criteria that have been set by the EU, we should support [its] accession [bid]. But this must be achieved through genuine negotiations. This must not be a mere formality."

In an interview with France's "Le Monde" newspaper earlier this week, Durao Barroso however warned that Turkey must still make progress to fully qualify for membership.