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French PM fears Turkish "River of Islam" in EU


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French PM fears Turkish "River of Islam" in EU

BRUSSELS, Sept 23 (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin voiced misgivings on Thursday about Turkey joining the EU, asking if Europe really wanted "the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism."

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 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.

Raffarin said that Turkey had made progress in 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?"

The European Commission is due to present an assessment on Oct. 6 of whether Turkey has met the political and economic criteria which would enable it to start negotiations.

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.

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.

"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.

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 negotiations 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.

(additional reporting by Yves Clarisse and Marcin Grajewski)

© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained In this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.

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yeah, saw this in the news this morning. Pretty fucked up...what exactly are they trying to get at? That Muslim countries aren't allowed int he EU? That Turkey is not Europe?

EDIT: Really am not sure if Turkey is considered ME or Europe. If its ME, then I can understand, but otherwise...

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yeah, saw this in the news this morning. Pretty fucked up...what exactly are they trying to get at? That Muslim countries aren't allowed int he EU? That Turkey is not Europe?

EDIT: Really am not sure if Turkey is considered ME or Europe. If its ME, then I can understand, but otherwise...

Can you imagine if someone in teh Administration made this comment---there would be world outrage......(or at least from the American Left, CAIR, Kofi, etc)....

I am with you on the ME-Europe distinction....I believe they are technically ME, or at least geographically.....I think, who knows?

Anyway, read thhis too:

How not to win Muslim Allies


There are many in Europe who want to keep Turkey out of the EU because it is large, poor and, most important, because it is Muslim

By Fareed Zakaria


Sept. 27 issue - Here's a quiz: over the past two years, which developing country has undertaken the most dramatic economic, political and social reforms in the world? Some hints: this country has deregulated its economy, simplified its tax code and brought its fiscal house in order, resulting in 8.2 percent growth this year and a 10 percent rise in productivity. It has passed nine packages of major reforms that have reduced the military's influence in government, enshrined political dissent and religious pluralism, passed strict laws against torture, abolished the death penalty and given substantial rights to a long-oppressed minority. The answer is Turkey. Even if it were not a Muslim country situated in the Middle East (sort of), its performance would be stunning. And yet, thanks to events last week, its long-sought quest to become a full member of the European Union may be thwarted.

The Turkish government's insistence on introducing a law making adultery a criminal offense might have derailed matters. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily pointed out that the issue of adultery is not part of the criteria laid out by the EU. He's right technically, but foolish politically. The reality is that there are many in Europe who want to keep Turkey out of the union because it is large, poor and, most important, because it is Muslim. The adultery law gives them a highly public issue to symbolize their fears.

But even if the adultery law passes, so what? European hysteria about this is absurd. Many are claiming that this represents the dangers of Islam in Europe. Have Europeans forgotten their own history? Adultery is banned in the Ten Commandments and was a criminal offense in almost every European country until very recently. Ireland abolished such a law in 1981, France in 1975, Italy in 1969. In America, 23 states still have such laws on the books. Don't get me wrong: I am opposed to the Turkish law. But to judge a developing country like Turkey by the standards of postmodern Europe circa 2004 seems to miss the point. If Turkey were a fully modernized society, it wouldn't need EU membership. Besides, were Turkey to become an EU member, the adultery law would quickly be null and void since the European courts would rule against it.

What is being lost in the current uproar over adultery is that even last week, while debating this one relatively trivial issue, the Turkish Parliament passed 218 laws that reform the penal code in accordance with the EU's criteria. Turkey's record of reform is the equal of most previous candidates for EU membership. A distinguished group of Europeans, including former Finnish prime minister Martti Ahtissari, released a report two weeks ago pointing out that Turkey compares well with two other EU applicants, Bulgaria and Romania.

And what is truly being lost is perhaps the most significant point—all these progressive, modernizing moves are being made by a ruling party that represents the people, unlike so many of the liberals in the Arab world, who are an unelected elite. The AK Party has shown that a devotion to Islam is entirely compatible with liberalism, pluralism and democracy. For this reason it is the most powerful symbol of modern Islam in the world today, a symbol that could have resonance for the the Middle East, Europe's own Muslim population and the entire Islamic world.

For decades people have held up Turkey as a model for Muslim politics. But, as Graham Fuller points out in an insightful essay in The Washington Quarterly, this was a Western fantasy. Ataturk's hypersecular republic, allied to America and Israel, was never going to move the hearts of Muslims. The AK Party has changed even that. By softening the edges of Turkey's secularism, by emphasizing clean government, by reaching out to the Middle East, it is becoming a more approachable model for Muslims. But to build this image it must be able to do some things that reflect the concerns of the Muslim masses, not the elites. That might include laws that reflect the deep concern in every Muslim country that as they modernize, they will become permissive and licentious. This concern is not uniquely Islamic. Every conservative movement and party in the Western world has worried deeply about this for the past 200 years.

In the end the EU decision will not be about Turkey's performance, which has been better than anyone could have hoped. It will be made by a Europe that is either confident or scared of the future. The former would see that Turkey could help solve its labor shortages, help with its problems assimilating Muslim populations and send a powerful signal across the world. The latter is best symbolized by the leader of the German conservatives, Angela Merkl, a bitter opponent of Turkish membership, who acknowledged these positive effects but said recently, "I look inwards." Alas, there are too many European leaders today who look only inwards.

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France bitching and moaning again, what a surprise. Turkey's 70million people will likely give them the majority in the EU parliament, ousting France. Muslim or not, that's the reason why France doesn't want Turkey in the EU. I don't see how having muslims in the EU will affect it at all, if you're going to blame the economy, politics, or whatever then go ahead, but putting religion at the top of the list just adds to Frances ignorance.

Most of Turkey is in Asia, half of Istanbul is in Europe and thats it (but just that one part in Europe has a huge population).

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