Meeting in Lisbon on Tuesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes said they would support beginning membership talks with Turkey when EU leaders gather in December.
Two votes for starting talks with Ankara
"At the EU summit in December, I will back the position recommended by the European Commission," Schröder said at a news conference following talks in Lisbon with his Portuguese colleague Santana Lopes.
Earlier this month the European Union executive gave the green light to begin accession talks with Istanbul. In a progress report and impact study issued Oct. 6, the commission said no other real problems stood in the way of starting the negotiation process, but warned that the enlargement talks could be broken off at any point if Turkey backtracks on its reform progress.
Not a unanimous vote
The commission's recommendations are expected to form the basis for discussion at a Dec. 17 summit when all 25 EU leaders vote on whether to allow entry negotiations to begin.
"We are going to back the findings of the EU Commission on this issue," said Santana Lopes, adding his country's vote to those favoring at least opening the talks with Ankara.
Entry talks, however, are far from certain as sentiment is split across the member states and among the national political parties. In Germany, support is divided between Schröder's governing coalition and the conservative opposition, which on Tuesday voted nearly unanimously to oppose Turkish membership in the EU.
In France, President Jacques Chirac favors starting talks with Turkey and holding a national referendum on membership, but his government is only lukewarm on the issue.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to Paris to show the "necessary support" in the run-up to the December summit, saying France is a country with "close and friendly ties to Turkey."
Both Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül have been crisscrossing the EU, visiting with heads of government and party leaders in the hopes of drumming up support from the biggest players in the bloc. Anything less than full membership "does not interest us," said Gül after meeting with opposition leaders in Germany.