TURKEY has given human rights guarantees that set the stage for a recommendation that it should begin membership talks with the European Union, EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen said yesterday.
"There are no more obstacles on the table now," Mr Verheugen said after a one-hour meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"There are no further conditions that Turkey must fulfill to enable the European Commission to make a clear recommendation" about when to begin the talks.
Mr Verheugen said that he had been able "to find a final solution for the remaining outstanding issue," alluding to a contentious penal code reform package which has been delayed amid disputes over a clause making adultery illegal.
Turkish media reported that Mr Erdogan had dropped the adultery clause from the reform package. Criminalising adultery is supported by conservative Islamic groups in Turkey.
The EU had warned against the adultery issue holding up the other reforms in the package, which includes laws against rape, paedophilia and torture and improves human rights standards.
EU officials had said that Ankara was unlikely to get the go-ahead to start membership talks without the penal code reform being approved.
Although Mr Verheugen said that that issue had now been resolved, he did not say that a report he is drafting - which is due on October 6 - would give a positive recommendation about whether to meet Turkey's wish for membership talks to start early next year.
Mr Erdogan said that his government was "taking important steps on reforms" and their implementation.
State Minister Mehmet Aydin, accompanying Mr Erdogan, said that Turkey's governing party would call on parliament to convene in an emergency session on Sunday to quickly pass the penal code.
Mr Erdogan also met European Commission president Romano Prodi and MEPs to soothe growing EU concerns over his country's readiness to start membership talks.
Right-wing MEPs stepped up criticism of Turkey's bid.
"We don't think that we should start negotiations with Turkey," said French conservative Jacques Toubon, asserting that allowing Turkey to join would weaken the bloc.
Commission president-designate Jose Manuel Barroso, another rightwinger, said that he hoped that progress would be made "regarding the possibility of opening talks with Turkey," but he added that the country "does not yet satisfy the criteria" for membership.
On Wednesday, Mr Erdogan said that Turkey had met all the EU political criteria.
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