On Wednesday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped this would lead to membership in a "reasonable period of time".

Speaking to the parliamentary assembly of the 46-member Council of Europe, Erdogan urged European Union leaders to respond positively to the day's report from the commission in Brussels recommending the opening of accession negotiations.

"We hope to bring a long-travelled road to its final lap with the initiation of accession negotiations in the first half of 2005," he said.

"Turkey's membership will not be realised overnight. Certainly Turkey anticipates concluding this phase within a reasonable period of time. To this end, we in Turkey will fulfil our share.

"We are confident that the positive tone set by the commission report and recommendation will be matched by the political will on the part of the leadership of the member states of the Union," Erdogan said.

Chirac has been criticised for
seeking a referendum on Turkey

Chirac criticised

He also harshly criticised French President Jacques Chirac for seeking a referendum on Turkish EU membership.

  

Erdogan insisted Turkey would accept no special conditions on talks, and that suspending progress towards negotiations "will show disrespect to a country which has accelerated" economic and political reforms in recent years.

  

"The EU will enter into a collision with its own values" if it stops talks with a "country that is a functioning democracy".

  

Erdogan took issue with European Commission President Romano Prodi, who said the recommendation to begin entry talks with Turkey came with some provisos, including the possibility of a suspension of negotiations if Ankara abandons its reform process.

  

"There is no conditional yes," Erdogan said.

 

Tough conditions

"There is no conditional yes"

Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
Turkey prime minister

Although the European Commission recommended on Wednesday that the EU start membership talks with Turkey, it set a series of tough conditions, warning there was no guarantee of a successful outcome.

"There is clearly the possibility that Turkey can become a member, but the negotiations, and this is very important, are open ended," Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said.

Erdogan told the Council of Europe on Wednesday that Turkey plans to ratify the Rome statute instituting the International Criminal Court, the body charged with trying genocide and crimes against humanity.

He also urged the international community to lift its boycott of the self-declared Turkish Republic of northern Cyprus, after Turkish Cypriots voted in a referendum six months ago in favour of a UN-backed reunification plan for the island.

The plan was rejected by Greek Cypriots.