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EU: Penal Code Reforms Needed Before Talks for Turkey to Enter EU Can Begin - 2004-09-20

The European Union has made clear to Turkey that it cannot start negotiations on joining the union, until Ankara reforms its penal code. The development comes just weeks before an EU report on whether the negotiations should get underway.

A spokesman for the European Union's executive commission, Jean-Christophe Filori, made the announcement to reporters at a briefing in Brussels.

"If this central element of reform, that is the new penal code, is not adopted, negotiations cannot be started," he said. "The Commission will make it clear that the negotiations cannot start, if the new penal code is not adopted by the sixth of October."

Mr. Filori also said this does not mean that negotiations could never start, if the new penal code is not adopted by that date.

October 6 is the day the European Commission is scheduled to issue an assessment of whether Turkey has met the political and economic standards for starting talks on joining the 25-nation bloc.

The accession report was expected to be positive, but this has recently been thrown into question by the failure of the Turkish parliament to adopt a new penal code because of controversy over a proposal to criminalize adultery.

The issue received more attention last week, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the European Union to stop meddling in Turkish affairs. The union's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, on Sunday told German newspapers that reforming Turkey's criminal law is central to the accession talks issue.

Mr. Erdogan will visit Brussels on Thursday, and EU officials say he probably will meet with Mr. Verheugen then.