Vatican signals support for Turkey EU bid
The Vatican has indicated it supports Turkish EU accession and acknowledged Ankara's progress toward democracy at a time when clouds of doubt are gathering over Turkey enlargement inside the EU itself.
In an interview with Italian daily La Stampa, published on Wednesday (30 May), the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that if "fundamental rules of cohabitation" are respected, building together a common future is possible "also with [Turkey's] entry in Europe."
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"Turkey has come a long way and is still progressing. I mean there are evolutions. There are obviously very different positions. But it is possible to build a mutual dialogue within a framework of individuals, populations and governments who respect the fundamental rules of living together," he said.
The comments represent a shift in the Vatican's position, which had previously opposed Turkey's EU entry on the basis the country's cultural roots are too different from those of mainland Europe.
Cardinal Bertone made his comments shortly before the world's leading Orthodox prelate, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spoke out against the discrimination of Christians in Turkey, Italian media say.
Religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Muslim country have developed high hopes that religious freedoms would increase under EU pressure as Turkey went through long negotiations to join the European Union club.
But in April three Christian publishers were murdered by radicals while a Cyprus-related freeze on EU accession talks and the advent of French president Sarkozy - who opposes Turkey's EU entry - have seen Brussels' pro-reform influence wane.
The Vatican itself does not have a clear record in its position on Turkey's possible EU membership.
Prior to his selection as Pope Benedict XVI, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed concerns over the prospect, suggesting that, historically, Turkey has never been part of Europe.
During his trip to Turkey last November, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the Pope told him in a private conversation that he did support Ankara's EU membership, however.
At the time, Vatican officials did not directly confirm the reports but admitted that they view the country's European path "favourably."