Chirac rejects 'third way' for Turkey


FRANCE: President Jacques Chirac last night excluded the possibility of offering Turkey an alternative to full EU membership. At the same time, he sought to reassure the French public that regardless of the outcome of negotiations, they "will have the last word".

The French right proposes a "privileged partnership" between the EU and Turkey instead of full membership, and Mr Chirac's entourage had alluded to the possibility of a "strong tie" between Turkey and the EU in the event that Turkey does not fulfil criteria for membership.

But speaking on television last night, Mr Chirac categorically rejected a 'third way' of dealing with Turkey's application. "To ask a great country enriched by a long history to make such considerable efforts to arrive at uncertain or partial results is obviously not reasonable," the Mr Chirac said. "We would bear a very heavy responsibility vis-à-vis history if we said 'no' to a people who say, 'We adopt all your values, all your rules'. They would never accept it. They are a proud people who are conscious of making tremendous efforts."

The French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, attracted attention in the National Assembly on Tuesday by referring to the Turkish "genocide" against the Armenians, noting that a French law passed in January 2001 recognised the genocide, which happened in 1915. Mr Barnier previously used the word "tragedy", which is preferred by Ankara.

The French government has long feared that next year's referendum on the European constitutional treaty could be muddled by the question of Turkish accession, and by domestic opposition to Mr Chirac. "France has always been an engine of European integration," he said. "To continue, she must say 'yes' [to the EU constitution]. It is an important question that must not be hijacked by considerations that have nothing to do with it."

Meanwhile, Germany's former Chancellor, Dr Helmut Kohl, said yesterday he didn't think Turkey would ever meet the accession criteria. Dr Kohl attacked what he called European leaders' "unfair and dishonest" courting of Turkey to win votes in the short term and said the political union could not survive beyond accepting Romania and Bulgaria.

"Mr Schröder wants, above all, to win elections and hopes to win sympathy among Turks who are eligible to vote in Germany," said Dr Kohl.

Chancellor Schröder's spokesman, Mr Bela Anda, said the government was bewildered by the former chancellor's opposition to Turkey's EU hopes.

Mr Anda said Mr Schröder's position was consistent with the position of all German chancellors since 1963, when the issue of Turkey's possible EU accession was first mooted.

Government advisers said they were confident of a deal being reached to open accession talks with Turkey at the summit which begins today in Brussels.