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Europe

Verheugen: No More Obstacles to Talks With Turkey

After meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyp Erdogan Thursday morning, EU Expansion Commissioner Günther Verheugen is ready to recommend Europe start membership negotiation with Turkey.

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All smiles: Erdogan and Verheugen

"We have been able to find solutions for the remaining outstanding problems," Verheugen told reporters at a joint press conference with the Turkish prime minister after an hour of talks early Thursday.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner expressed satisfaction with Ankara's progress on the road to reforming its legal system ahead of entering talks with Brussels over Turkey's candidacy for entering the EU. There were "no more obstacles" on the table, Verheugen said.

Penal code not a problem

The statement from Brussels was a relief for Erdogan who has been campaigning hard to get his country in shape to join the European Union. Only last month Verheugen had indicated concerns about Turkey's penal code and charges of systematic torture.

Die türkische Flagge und EU-Flagge

On Thursday the German commissioner dismissed these worries, saying: "My conclusion is that there are no more obstacles on the table now. From my point of view there are no further conditions which Turkey must fulfil in order to allow the Commission to make a recommendation."

Verheugen is due to publish a crucial report of Turkey's reform progress on Oct. 6. On the basis of this, EU leaders will decide in December whether to start EU membership negotiations with Ankara.

Erdogan relieved

"I'm very happy as a result of this meeting, which has been very productive," the Turkish leader said. "I believe that this meeting is going to prepare a very positive foundation for the progress report of Turkey," he added, smiling.

Only last week, it looked like Turkey had hit an impasse on its road to Brussels after the legal reforms Erdogan put forth were sharply criticized by hard-liners in Ankara who demanded the new laws contain a ban on adultery. But Erdogan, whose Islamic party represents a good number of conservative voters, withstood the pressure and pushed through the new legislation.

For his part, Erdogan said he would continue to take important steps to reform the penal code to guarantee improvements in human rights and eliminate police torture. "We are very determined to do this .. to implement all the reforms seriously," he told reporters.

Membership hinges on reforms

Turkey's European supporters admit the country doesn't have a chance of getting into the EU if it doesn't implement the legal reforms. "Turkey should not underestimate how much importance the EU attaches to the adoption of the penal code," said Dutch Green Party member Joost Lagendijk, who chairs the parliament's EU-Turkey committee.

Some politicians, who oppose beginning talks with Turkey, don't need to see if Erdogan sticks to his word and gets the reform laws passed.

Elmar Brok

Elmar Brok said Turkey isn't ready for accession talks

"Turkey has not satisfactorily finished its homework," Elmar Brok (photo), a member of Germany's Christian Democratic Union and the chairman of Europe's Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday. He wants the EU to reexamine accession talks with Turkey in two to three years.

But Erdogan doesn't want to wait and will use talks later Thursday with European Commission President Romano Prodi and European Parliament President Josep Borrell to lobby his case.

"Our efforts undoubtedly will be rewarded," Erdogan said. "They have to be."

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