BRUSSELS, Oct 24: European Commission chief Romano Prodi praised Turkey’s “historic” democratic reforms on Thursday but insisted Ankara was unlikely to get a starting date for European Union membership talks this year.

While praising EU “rapprochement” with Turkey, Prodi poured cold water on the country’s hopes that a date would be announced at a December 12-13 EU summit in Copenhagen.

“We are generally very pleased, very satisfied, that in legislative terms, an awful lot of progress has been made,” Prodi told reporters before the start of an EU summit here.

“Decisions have been taken, slightly before the Turkish government lapsed into crisis, but those were decisions of historic importance,” he said.

But Prodi added: “At Copenhagen we would not be expecting to propose a date for Turkey.”

According to a draft agenda for the Brussels summit issued by the EU’s Danish presidency, reforms adopted by Turkey in August — including abolition of the death penalty and greater rights for minority Kurds — have “brought forward” a date for the start of accession talks.

Germany, which has a large ethnic-Turkish population, declared it would do everything to help Ankara in its quest to join the 15-nation EU, which first began in 1987.

Germany “will try to accompany Turkey step by step on its path to membership of the European Union”, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said.

“As far as we are concerned, we are going to do all we can to get the most positive possible signal” at Copenhagen, he said late Wednesday.

The European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — recommended earlier this month that 10 countries from eastern and central Europe and the Mediterranean join in 2004, while noting a target date of 2007 for Romania and Bulgaria.

But it did not name a date for Ankara to start membership talks.

Turkish leaders slammed the snub and have pushed for the EU’s political leaders to ignore the Commission’s recommendation.

The United States also expressed its dismay that the Commission had failed to set a date for Turkey — a key NATO ally that shares borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“Turkey’s an important strategic ally (of the EU), there’s no doubt about that,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters.

“We are pleased with how things are moving but it’s too early to say what is going to happen from here until the month of December,” he said.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said the December summit was too early to name a date for Turkey.

Schuessel acknowledged Ankara’s reforms. “But on the other hand we have elections coming up in Turkey and we have no idea who is going to win,” he said.

“Nor do we know i the timeframe for the reforms to be introduced is really going to be respected,” he added.

The EU is keeping a close eye on the snap Turkish elections being held on November 3, in which the current government, in crisis partly because of the reforms demanded by the EU, is expected to be ousted.

Prodi said the recent reforms in Turkey were helped along by the “rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union” but reiterated that Ankara had yet to fulfil all of the so-called Copenhagen criteria required for EU membership.

“In the (Commission) report we did also say that the Copenhagen criteria also require practical implementation at an administrative level of those decisions,” he said.

“And that is something that we have not yet seen happen.”—AFP

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