PARIS (Reuters)–Turkey will not join the European Union for at least 15 years and could only do so once France had held a referendum on the issue–French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday.
"The membership of Turkey–in the best of cases–will not happen for 15 years," he told LCI television. "A decision as important as the membership of Turkey in Europe could only be taken after there had been a referendum in France."
Sarkozy–who plans to quit the Finance Ministry in November to lead France’s ruling conservative party–said he had reservations about Turkey joining the 25-member bloc.
He was skeptical about the idea "not because it is a Muslim country but because Turkey alone represents the membership of the 10 countries [mainly] from eastern Europe," he said–referring to the countries that joined the bloc this year.
Sarkozy made his commen’s after French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin voiced misgivings on Thursday about Turkey joining the bloc–asking if Europe really wanted "the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism."
Raffarin said Turkey had made progress in adjusting its laws and institutions to EU standards under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan–but queried the overwhelmingly Muslim but secular state’s ability to stay the course.
Turkey cleared a hurdle on its path towards EU membership on Sunday when its parliament approved a new penal code which will boost women’s rights and punish police more severely for torture.
The European Commission is due to present an assessment on October 6 of whether Turkey has met the political and economic criteria which would enable it to start negotiations.