Top European Union officials are discussing a draft recommendation by the bloc's executive that reportedly gives Turkey approval to begin membership negotiations, while also setting strict conditions for their continuation. The recommendation is due next Wednesday, but it is subject to approval by EU leaders in December. The document reportedly credits Turkey with making significant reforms to bring its legal system into compliance with EU requirements, but says there is more to do.

Turkey has been waiting for more than 40 years to start accession talks with the European Union. And it seems that it will finally get its chance, but only with the condition that its eventual membership is not guaranteed. The process is expected to take 10 years, or more.

The Reuters news agency and the French daily Le Monde, which obtained copies of the so-far secret recommendation by the European Commission, say it will highlight Turkey's accomplishments, as well as its shortcomings, in bringing its laws up to EU standards.

According to the reports on the leaked document, Turkey should be praised for abolishing the death penalty, cracking down on the use of torture and reducing the role of the military. But the reports also say the document charges that even though torture in Turkey is no longer systematic, it continues to exist. It reportedly adds that religious minorities are not given the same rights as Turkish Muslims and says human rights advocates are subject to judicial harassment.

The 30-member commission is known to be divided about the prospect of populous, relatively poor and overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey entering the EU. But an EU official who asked not to be named says he thinks the EU executive will swing behind the recommendation by enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen to begin the talks.

That view is shared by analyst Amanda Akcakoca at the European Policy Center, a Brussels research organization.

"I think the commission will set a date to open talks," said Amanda Akcakoca. "But I think that there will probably be some conditions attached to it. Probably, a monitoring of Turkey's reform process, its implementation process, would be linked to it."

The EU official who spoke earlier says the commission is expected to be a lot tougher with Turkey, once negotiations get underway, than it has been with previous candidates for membership. He says the commission will insist that Turkey implement EU laws, instead of only spelling out how it proposes to do so, before it closes each of the 30 or so chapters that will be part of the negotiations.

The official also says the commission will make clear that the talks could be suspended if Turkey retreats in any way on implementing political and human rights reforms.

French President Jacques Chirac threw another obstacle in Turkey's way on Friday, when he urged that France hold a referendum on Turkish accession. Polls show that a majority of French, as well as Germans and Austrians, oppose Turkey's entry into the EU. But diplomats say Mr. Chirac's proposal is aimed at preventing voter concern about Turkish membership from influencing a French referendum next year on the EU's new constitution. A negative vote in France, or any other EU country, could torpedo the charter.