"The membership of Turkey, in the best of cases, will not happen for 15 years," he told LCI television on Sunday.

 

"A decision as important as the membership of Turkey in Europe could only be taken after there had been a referendum in France."

 

Sarkozy's announcement comes after Turkey on Sunday cleared a hurdle on its path towards EU membership when its parliament approved a new penal code which will boost women's rights and punish police more severely for torture.

 

The 550-seat assembly held an extraordinary session to debate and pass the reforms after the European Commission made clear they were a condition for granting Ankara a green light to start entry negotiations.

 

Show of hands

 

"Now, a date for negotiations will be given [by the EU]. This is my view," Turkish government spokesman Cemil Cicek, who is also justice minister, told parliament.

 

"The speed of our drive to full membership depends on our efforts. No article in this new code can be used to limit rights and freedoms," he said.

 

"Now, a date for negotiations will be
given [by the EU]"

Cemil Cicek,
Turkish justice minister

The vote, by a show of hands, comes just 10 days before the European Commission publishes a detailed report on Turkey, which will include a recommendation on whether Ankara is ready to start the long-delayed talks.

 

EU leaders will decide in December, based on the report, whether to open the talks, which are expected to last up to a decade.

 

"The law complies with EU legislation ... We have taken a big step towards the EU," Koksal Toptan, head of parliament's justice committee, said after the vote.

 

Bill abandoned

 

Parliament had already approved much of the new penal code earlier this month, but the government then decided to shelve it due to a row over separate plans to outlaw adultery, triggering dismay in the EU and near-panic in Turkish financial markets.

 

Erdogan (L) has struck an upbeat
note about Turkey's EU prospects

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, only abandoned the planned adultery ban after crisis talks last Thursday in Brussels. EU officials had said the ban would be "un-European" and very difficult to implement.

 

Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), a conservative grouping with Islamist roots, has a big majority in parliament. Much of the main centre-left Republican People's party also voted for the new penal code on Sunday.

 

In a regular television address broadcast on Saturday night, Erdogan struck an upbeat note about Turkey's EU prospects, saying: "A long and difficult road is opening up before Turkey but it is a road we will walk with enthusiasm."

 

Partial membership

 

In Austria, one of the most sceptical EU states on Turkey, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel backed the start of accession talks, but suggested Ankara be considered for something short of full membership.

 

"The EU Commission should now give the green light for negotiations. But a greater range of options must also be made available as far as the outcome is concerned," Austria's Kleine Zeitung quoted Schuessel as saying.

 

"At the moment there is only the option: full membership or nothing. I think that is too simple. If that [creating more options] is possible, I can be happy with negotiations starting," he said.