French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday said he did not support Turkey's bid to join the European Union in the near future. He also said he had not yet decided whether to put the EU's constitution to a referendum.
Ankara certainly isn't smiling.
"Turkey's entry into the union is certainly not desirable in the short term," Chirac said at his first major press conference in Paris in six years. "My conviction is that it is in the long term."
Although the EU is set to expand from 15 to 25 members on May 1, the bloc's leaders aren't scheduled to decide until December whether to approve Turkey's candidacy bid. Only with that endorsement could the 70 million-strong Muslim country start full negotiations over membership in 2005.
Chirac said he believed Turkey's destiny lies with Europe, but the country had not yet met the conditions for entry to the EU, mentioning concerns over respect for human rights and judicial reform. "Turkey has made considerable efforts," he said, according to the Associated Press. But he added "there is still a way to go."
Chirac's comments could make Turkey's goal of becoming part of Europe's most-exclusive club more difficult, but the government in Ankara reacted calmly. "Membership is a different matter (to starting negotiations)," a senior Foreign Ministry official told Reuters news agency. "Once we get a date the process could well take a long time."
Turkish girls, holding a national flag, march in downtown Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday Oct. 29, 2003, during celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
Geographically straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey has carried out sweeping reforms in the last two years as it tries to meet EU standards. It abolished the death penalty in all but a few cases and has granted greater rights to the country's long-oppressed Kurdish minority.
Support for EU constitution
Chirac also devoted considerable time at the press conference to other European matters. He said negotiations on the EU's proposed constitution needed to continue apace: "This agreement is necessary and possible today."
He added France had not yet decided whether to hold a referendum on the constitution, saying the country could also let a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate approve the document. "It is too early to decide on one or the other option," Chirac said.
Several EU countries, including Britain, have opted to let their people decide the fate of the constitution in what could be difficult to win referendums. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has so far resisted pressure for a referendum, said this week the EU had to find a way to move forward with the constitutional treaty even if euro-sceptic nations like Britain failed to pass it.
"The truth is we have to find a mechanism for the constitution to enter into force even if the ratification process in one or the other country is not yet completed," Schröder said in a recent interview with Focus magazine. EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to resume negotiations for Europe's first-ever constitution. The talks are to be finalized at a June 17-18 EU summit, after which the constitution faces ratification in all EU states. Negotiations over the charter collapsed in December when Spain and Poland rejected a proposed new voting system they felt would limit their power. Both countries have since dropped their strong opposition to the document.