Turkey's place in EU questioned

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has voiced misgivings about Turkey joining the EU, questioning the overwhelmingly Muslim but secular state's ability to stay the reformist course.

    Turkey has adopted wide-ranging reforms to meet EU's criteria

    His comments to the Wall Street Journal Europe put a spotlight on differences between French President Jacques Chirac, who has backed Turkey's membership bid, and his own Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which is totally opposed.

    Raffarin aired his doubts in an interview published on Thursday just

    hours before the European Union's executive virtually assured Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that Ankara would get a green light next month to start accession talks.

    The French premier said Turkey had made progress adjusting its laws and institutions to EU standards under Erdogan, but queried the overwhelmingly Muslim but secular state's ability to stay the course


    "We are not doubting the good faith of Mr Erdogan, but to
    what extent can today's and tomorrow's governments make Turkish society embrace Europe's human-rights values?" he asked.

    "Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?"

    Positive report

    The European Commission is due to present an assessment on 6 October 

    whether Turkey has met the political and economic criteria which would enable it to start negotiations.

    Erdogan has vowed not to outlaw
    adultery in a new penal code

    A positive report appeared to be on the cards on Thursday after Erdogan assured the commission that parliament would push through a vital penal code amendment this weekend.

    He also announced that plans to outlaw adultery would not be included in the new penal code.

    But the reservations widely felt in France - one of the EU's most influential members - were underlined by French European Parliament member Jacques Toubon, a Chirac ally who distanced himself from the president on the issue.

    "That's him (Chirac) and this is me," said Toubon, who sits
    on the EU assembly's parliamentary delegation on Turkey.
    EU constitution

    "We do not think accession negotiations should be opened
    with Turkey ... because to bring Turkey into the European Union is not consistent with our concept of the European project and it is not good for Europe," he told a news conference.

    "Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?"

    French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin

    Toubon called for a special partnership with Turkey rather than offering it EU membership - a view shared by French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP's incoming leader, whose presidential ambitions have caused a rift with Chirac.

    Toubon said that if "political correctness" led to the opening of ne

    gotiations with Ankara, plebiscites planned in several EU countries on the bloc's new constitution could turn into referendums on Turkey's accession.

    "Saying yes to the constitution would also mean saying yes
    to Turkey," he said, adding there was a risk that for this
    reason European citizens might vote 'no' to the constitution.



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