PARIS (AFP)–A French Senate committee Wednesday rejected a measure that would have made a referendum on Turkey’s membership in the European Union mandatory, saying it could harm relations with Ankara.
The foreign relations and defence committee said the provision of a bill adopted by the National Assembly last month "could appear to be directed against a friendly state and ally of France, that is Turkey."
It would "likely cause grave harm to diplomatic relations between France and this country," a statement from the committee said.
The National Assembly voted on May 29 to make a referendum mandatory for accepting new countries with populations totalling more than five percent the bloc’s entire size – a move that affects Turkey.
The provision is part of a bill on institutional reform to be submitted to a vote in July.
Sources in parliament said the measure was now likely to be blocked by the Senate.
Turkey had warned that the move could harm relations, saying in a Foreign Ministry statement that it was "irked by efforts to enshrine such a discriminatory approach towards Turkey in the French constitution despite the fact that accession negotiations (between Turkey and the E.U.) have started with France’s consent."
President Nicolas Sarkozy is a vocal opponent of Turkey’s entry into the European Union, arguing that the mainly Muslim country doesn’t belong in Europe.
Meanwhile, EU ambassadors on Thursday gave the green light for Ankara to open two more of the 35 policy chapters, or sectors, that all candidates must navigate to sign up to Europe’s rich club, officials said.
The chapters, on "company law" and "intellectual property law", will officially be opened next Tuesday in Luxembourg, bringing to eight the number of policy areas Turkey has opened since it began accession talks in 2005.
Turkey’s quest to join the European Union has regularly been thwarted.
Some 18 chapters are on hold.
Eight were officially frozen in December 2006 due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes, while five more are directly linked to accession and blocked by France.
Island EU member Cyprus is holding out on some, as is the European Commission, which supervises the accession process.
If all goes well for Turkey, officials suggest, three more chapters could be opened before the French EU presidency ends on December 31, but a possible Turkish court ban on the ruling party in coming months could hinder further progress.