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Turkish Leader Calls for EU Membership Talks


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Brussels to make a final pitch before next week's EU summit for the 25-nation bloc to set a date for his country to begin membership talks. Public opposition in some EU countries to eventual Turkish membership is growing, and Turkey says the bloc is throwing up new obstacles to its accession.

Mr. Erdogan has obtained support from the European Commission, the EU's executive body, and from the Dutch government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, for starting entry talks early next year.

The EU's heads of state and government will decide next week whether to follow the commission's advice, and set a date for the negotiations to begin.

Most EU members are in favor of starting the talks. But they disagree on how soon they should begin.

France, for instance, wants to wait until the end of next year to start the negotiations. The French government is afraid that an EU decision to begin talks earlier might lead opponents of Turkish membership to vote against the EU's draft constitution in a referendum next year.

In France, Germany and Austria, opposition to Turkish membership in the EU is hardening, and politicians in those countries are now suggesting that Turkey should be given some kind of privileged associate status instead of full membership in the bloc, a suggestion Mr. Erdogan strenuously rejects.

Opponents of Turkish membership say admitting a relatively poor, overwhelmingly Muslim country of 70 million people will trigger a wave of Turkish migrants toward western Europe, and that their countries will end up subsidizing Turkey, until it catches up economically with the rest of the European Union.

Lately, these critics have been insisting that Turkey must recognize the government of Cyprus, before it can start membership talks. Turkey says the Cypriot government only represents the majority Greek Cypriot community on the divided island, but not the Turkish Cypriot minority.

Under the two-year-old government of Mr. Erdogan, Turkey has enacted a bundle of political, legal and economic reforms to meet EU membership requirements, and the Turkish leader says his country has met all of the EU's conditions to start talks.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, met with Mr. Erdogan on Thursday. Mr. Balkenende says Turkey should be given the same chance as any other candidate for membership, and should not have to endure unfair conditions.

"In 1999 and in 2002, Turkey was considered to be a candidate member of the EU. That's a reality. And it's important that there is fair play in the direction of Turkey. And you mustn't change the rules of the game," Mr. Balkenende said.

But, in order to gain a consensus among its EU partners on Turkey at next week's summit, Mr. Balkenende's government is circulating a draft that incorporates such conditions as Turkish recognition of Cyprus before Ankara can start membership talks.

Mr. Erdogan says Turkey will accept no conditions, beyond satisfying the EU's criteria on democracy and human rights. But Mr. Balkenende says there are still concerns in EU capitals that, although Turkey may have enacted such reforms, they may not yet have been systematically implemented and enforced.

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