Former French President Opposed To Turkish EU Membership

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Paris ( - Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's comments about Turkey's candidacy to the European Union have created uproar in France and at E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

In an interview published Friday in the French daily newspaper Le Monde, Giscard, who is the head of a commission preparing a draft E.U. constitution, said that Turkey should not be admitted to the union because it is technically not part of Europe. The Turkish capital, Ankara, is in Asia, as is most of the country's landmass.

A spokesman for the E.U.'s commission on enlargement, Jean Christophe Filori, said Giscard's words only expressed his own opinion and not that of E.U. heads of state.

"Giscard's remarks do not put into question the European Union's decision to consider Turkey for candidacy. We are very satisfied with the progress Turkey has made as a candidate. In fact, Turkey has made more progress in democracy and human rights in the past year than in the five years before," Filori said.

European Union leaders will meet in Copenhagen on Dec. 12 and 13 to consider Turkey's application, but Filori said Turkey has not yet met all the political and economic criteria for membership. Ten new countries may be admitted into the union in 2004.

In the interview, Giscard said: "If we negotiate membership with Turkey, the next day Morocco would also be asking to join ... I am giving my opinion: it would be the end of the European Union."

The interview touched off a debate in France about whether Turkey, where an Islamic party last week won parliamentary elections, should be considered for membership in the European Union and where Europe's borders should be drawn.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Giscard's views were personal and Turkey's candidacy would be taken up at the Copenhagen summit. Opposition Socialist Party officials defended Turkey's right to join the union as long as the country meets all the membership criteria.

"The argument that Turkey is not geographically part of Europe is ridiculous," said Murat Erpuyan, director of A-ta-Turquie, a French association working toward the integration of Turkish immigrants in France.

Erpuyan said that accepting Turkey's membership in the EU would have been a real opportunity to transform the European Union from a wealthy collection of Christian nations to a group that includes a Muslim country that is still fighting poverty.

He said that the opportunity is now probably lost because in Turkey itself, a large group of people are opposed to EU membership.

"Maybe Giscard's declaration isn't such a bad thing," said Erpuyan. "At least he's not being hypocritical and saying Turkey just hasn't met the conditions for membership like other EU members are saying."

Filori said that membership criteria to join the European Union are the same for all countries and there was no hypocrisy whatsoever.

"It is true that not everyone is ready to accept Turkey as part of Europe, but the European Union leaders' decision to accept its candidacy is not about to change," he said.

"Valery Giscard d'Estaing was not asked by the European Union to speak out against Turkish membership," Filori said. "He expressed solely his own opinion. And I'm not losing any sleep over what he said."

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