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Europe

Talks With Turkey Next on EU Agenda

Outlining his goals for his country's six-month EU presidency before the European Parliament, Dutch Premier Jan-Peter Balkenende has called for fairness in deciding whether to start accession talks with Turkey.

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Will the 25-nation bloc take on Turkey?

Speaking before the newly elected parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, the Christian Democrat said EU countries must not be guided by a fear of Islam when deciding about the bloc's future relationship with Turkey.

Jan Peter Balkenende

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

"Resistance towards a religion is not consistent European values," Balkenende said. " Our resistance has to be focussed on people who abuse worshipping God to propagate violence."

In December, EU leaders will decide whether Turkey meets the political and economic criteria to begin negotiations towards joining the bloc at some point in the future. That process is expected to take at least 10 years.

Balkenende said Turkey's readiness for negotiations should be judged honestly but strictly on the existing criteria of human rights, democracy and the rule of law without inventing new conditions.

Refuting bin Laden

Martin Schulz, the leader of the European Socialists, agreed with Balkenende. He added that the EU had raised Turkey's hopes to join the union and could not switch gears at this point.

Martin Schulz Europaparlament SPD

Martin Schulz

"Islam isn't the problem," Schulz (photo) said. "If it were possible to show that Western values and an Islamic society are not mutually exclusive, the arguments of the world's bin Ladens would be refuted. The increase in the level of security that Europe could gain from this should not be dismissed lightly."

But Hans-Gert Pöttering, Schulz's political opponent as leader of the conservatives in the European Parliament, said that the union should offer Turkey a special partnership but not full membership.

France is on the fence

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Türkei

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo) visited France to lobby for Paris to support Turkey's accession to the EU.

French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday reaffirmed his support for Turkey's eventual membership of the European Union, without specifying any time frame.

According to a Chirac aide, the president said that "Turkey's integration into the EU is welcome as soon as it becomes possible...Turkey has made considerable progress. It must continue and intensify the implementation of democratic and economic reforms."

Chirac has previously said he believes the path to Turkish membership is "irreversible," but he is at odds with many in his own Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and the public who believe the predominantly Muslim country has no place in the club of 25.

The debate over Turkey's right to join the EU has been particularly robust in France, where there is strong opposition both from those who fear its implications for immigration and Europe's cultural heritage, and those who say it will mean the end of their vision for a politically integrated continent.

Abstention rather than opposition?

The nationalist leader Philippe de Villiers on Tuesday condemned Erdogan's visit and what he described as Chirac's "determination" to see Turkey join the EU. He said he would ensure Turkey's membership is at the "heart of the debate" ahead of next year's planned referendum on the EU constitution.

As Britain, Germany and Spain already lean towards supporting commencing negotiations with Turkey, some think that it's unlikely that France would block such a step. "France will either fight for the opening of negotiations or abstain, because it doesn't want to oppose the main European countries which have already come out clearly in favor," Didier Billion, an expert on Turkey and the deputy director of the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, told Reuters news agency. "I don't think that France will risk taking a position that would spark a crisis within the European Union."

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