Britain has strongly endorsed Turkey's bid to join the European Union, despite concerns among some EU members about admitting the predominately Muslim state. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw addressed the issue on the eve of Britain assuming the EU presidency.
Mr. Straw laid out Britain's policy on Turkish membership in the European Union during an appearance in parliament Thursday.
"Turkish membership of the European Union is a controversial issue for public opinion in parts of Europe, but the British government remains strongly committed to Turkey joining the European Union," he announced.
The British foreign secretary said the admission of Turkey into the European Union would be a positive development for both sides.
"The European Union and Turkey alike stand to gain greatly from a democratic and prosperous Turkey anchored in Europe, a demonstration that Islam is compatible with the values of liberal democracy which form the bedrock of the European Union," added Mr. Straw.
The European Commission has set October 3 as the date when accession talks with Turkey will begin. Britain takes control of the rotating EU presidency for the next six months, beginning Friday.
The British presidency comes at a time of uncertainty for the European Union, following referendums in France and the Netherlands rejecting a new EU constitution.
Meanwhile, there is vocal opposition to Turkey joining the European Union among some continental Europeans, who argue that Turkey has not embraced European social and political values.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called for an open debate within the alliance about Turkey's membership. Mr. Barroso may discuss the issue further at a meeting scheduled Friday in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.