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Europe

Germany, France Want Turkey in EU

Germany and France offered a ringing endorsement for Turkey's future membership in the EU at a bilateral summit Tuesday. They also criticized as inadequate proposed changes to the pact designed to underpin the euro.

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Schröder and Chirac are ready to invite Erdogan (left) into the fold

Ahead of a meeting later Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told a news conference that they would vote for Ankara to be invited to EU membership talks at a summit in December in Brussels.

"We are both of the opinion that on December 17 it is about a decision that should give Turkey the opportunity to negotiate with the (European) Commission with the explicit aim of Turkey joining the European Union and with no other aim," Schröder told reporters.

Chirac added that it was his "dearest wish" that Turkey's membership talks with the EU end in its joining the bloc.

"This decision (in December) is based on the recommendations of the European Commission, whose favorable conclusion we know and I agree with too," he said. "However, there will then be a long-term process of negotiations, which could last 15 years."

Schröder has been perhaps the strongest supporter of Turkey's bid within the bloc, while Chirac has bowed to domestic pressure for a referendum on Ankara's accession and warned that Paris could veto membership talks at any time.

Talks could begin in 2005

Straßenszene in Istanbul

Turkey wants to start official talks to join the EU next year

The 25 EU leaders are expected at the December summit to give Turkey their green light on starting accession talks, but it is not yet clear when the negotiations could start. Turkey has said it wants the talks to start in early 2005.

Chirac told reporters he believed the negotiations could begin "in 2005 or around 2005." "The membership of Turkey would be in the interest of Turkey and in the interest of the stability and democracy of the world and our region," he said.

Erdogan warned before leaving for Berlin Tuesday that his poor, predominantly Muslim country would settle for nothing short of full membership in the EU, regardless of efforts within the bloc to slow the process.

"This summit... is very important with respect to our foreign policy objectives because Turkey's European Union accession process has ceased to be an ambiguous process for the EU and has taken an irreversible direction," Erdogan said in a speech before the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party.

Stability pact changes "not enough"

Frankfurt bekommt in der Silvesternacht ein Euro-Denkmal

Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank

Schröder and Chirac also discussed proposed changes to the European Union's Stability and Growth Pact -- which underpins the euro. The German leader told reporters that both men believe the proposals are inadequate.

"We share the view that (commission chief Romano) Prodi made some interesting propositions, that the propositions point in the right direction, but that they're not enough," Schröder said at the joint news conference with Chirac.

Paris and Berlin wanted to convince their partners in the 12-country euro zone to "allow member states more room for manoeuvre, for example, with regard to investment in research and development," Schröder said.

The stability pact, drawn up in 1997 largely at Germany's behest, has become a source of controversy as a growing number of countries fail to respect a rule which limits public deficits to 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on pain of stiff financial penalties.

At the beginning of September, the EU Commission suggested the rules of the pact could be applied more flexibly and that greater account could be taken of a country's specific situation if it runs up an excessive deficit.

The stability pact was effectively suspended last year when Germany and France, the two largest euro-zone economies, persuaded the EU to hold off from imposing disciplinary measures despite their repeated violation of the rules.

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