|Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi shake hands before a meeting at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul (File photo)|
Turkish leaders played down France's rejection of a proposed European Union constitution Monday saying it would not affect Turkey's efforts to join the European bloc.
Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said the rejection of the EU charter by some 55 percent of French voters was something which concerns the French public, not Turkey.
He added that starting membership negotiations was in Turkey's hands. Turkey's Islam-rooted government took power two years ago pledging to lead the country into the EU. The government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has approved a broad array of legal changes that persuaded EU leaders to open accession talks with Turkey. The talks are scheduled to start on October 3.
Although the European constitution makes no reference to Turkey's possible membership, the "No" camp in France played on voters fears of admitting the large, poor and predominantly Muslim nation. Those fears are shared by other EU members notably, the Netherlands, where voters are widely expected to reject the constitution in a referendum in June.
Prime Minister Erdogan told VOA in a recent interview that linking Turkey's membership to approval of the constitution was misleading. It is the contents of the constitution, not Turkey's membership, that was put to the vote, he said.
Mr. Erdogan accused both the French government and French opposition leaders of using the issue of Turkish membership as a political tool. He said regardless of European attitudes, Turkey would continue to improve and strengthen democracy.
Mr. Erdogan says that Turkey is pursuing the reform process to improve the lives of its own citizens not merely to join the EU.