16 October 2004
Turkey's entry into the European Union would boost stability and security in the region and bring advantages to all of Europe, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said in a German newspaper interview.
Blair said that, although Turkey had more reform work ahead of it, he was strongly in favour of Turkey's membership. He said he thought it would take at least 10 years before it could join.
"A stable, democratic Turkey in the EU is extremely important for the stability and security of the region," Blair told Bild newspaper on Thursday. "It would be a great win for Europe."
Turkey won a green light from the European Commission earlier this month to open membership negotiations with the European Union after 40 years of on-again, off-again talks.
EU leaders will make a final decision on the talks at a summit in December.
The EU executive's recommendation carried several conditions, including the possibility of suspending talks if Ankara backtracks on democracy and of curbing any influx of Turkish workers after Turkey joins.
Blair said opponents of Turkey's bid, in particular Germany's conservative Christian Democrats, should keep in mind that Europe had held out the prospect of membership since 1963.
"Turkey can only join the EU when it fulfils the necessary criteria and that includes human rights," Blair said, adding he and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were of the same opinion.
"Turkey doesn't want any special treatment and won't get it," he added. "This Turkish government has pushed through radical changes to firm up democracy, respect human rights and create stability as a precondition for prosperity."