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Turkish PM Pledges to Pass Reforms Wanted by EU - 2004-09-23


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country's parliament will reconvene on Sunday to debate and approve penal code reforms Turkey needs before it can start membership negotiations with the European Union. Mr. Erdogan has apparently defused a spat with the EU that had dented Turkey's hopes of getting a green light to start the talks.

Mr. Erdogan made the announcement after meeting with European Commission president Romano Prodi at EU headquarters in Brussels. The Commission, the EU's executive body, is scheduled to announce whether Turkey is ready to start EU entry talks on October 6.

The conventional wisdom was that the Commission would give Turkey a positive answer. But that was thrown into doubt last week when Mr. Erdogan withdrew legislation bringing Turkey's penal code in line with EU standards after hard-line members of his party insisted that the package include a clause criminalizing adultery.

The EU reacted by telling Turkey that it could not hope to start negotiations until the penal code reforms were adopted.

Mr. Erdogan pledged Thursday to have the new penal code adopted by the October 6 deadline.

He told reporters that Parliament will convene in an extraordinary session on Sunday to discuss and approve the penal code and other enabling legislation.

Mr. Erdogan did not say whether the package would still include the anti-adultery bill, which sparked concern among EU members, all of which have decriminalized adultery.

But an EU official who took part in Thursday's talks between the Turkish leader and EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen says Mr. Erdogan committed himself to withdrawing the controversial proposal from the reform package.

For his part, Mr. Verheugen said he sees no further obstacles to his making a clear recommendation next month on whether Turkey should begin membership talks, but he did not say what that recommendation would be.

The final word on whether Turkey starts entry negotiations is up to EU leaders, who will discuss the issue in December. But nobody in Brussels expects Turkey to be able to effectively join the EU until 2015 at the earliest.

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