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EU begins screening of Turkey, Croatia laws to align with bloc's standards

The European Union began screening legislation in Turkey and Croatia on Thursday to check its compatibility with EU law in preparation for detailed membership talks with the two nations. The screening is expected to take about a year, as EU officials study the candidates' laws in 35 subjects ranging from antitrust to environment protection.

After screening is closed in each subject, or chapter, the detailed negotiations begin on adapting national laws to the union's vast body of regulations.

Those negotiations are expected to last 10 years for Turkey, while Croatia hopes to wrap up its membership talks by 2009.

Envoys from Turkey and Croatia attended the opening of screening in the first chapters - science and research - at EU headquarters. The process starts with the EU explaining its laws to the candidates before the focus turns on their legislation.

"Screening represents the start of the concrete, technical work of the negotiations," said Fabrizio Barbaso, head of the EU's enlargement department.

However, the process could have political consequences. On the basis of the screening, the European Commission could recommend setting conditions for the start of talks in the various chapters.

Turkey's shaky human rights and poor economic past have kept it from becoming a full EU member, along with European concerns about bringing in a mainly Muslim nation with most of its territory in Asia bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The European position shifted in recent years as Turkey introduced reforms to strengthen democracy, minority rights and the market economy. However, it is expected to take years of delicate negotiation to align its laws with EU legislation.

Separately, a European Parliament member called on Turkey to allow a Greek Orthodox theology school closed 34 years ago to reopen.

Hans-Gert Poettering, the leader of the European Parliament's Christian Democratic group spoke at the opening of a conference organized jointly by his group and the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

The EU is pressing Turkish authorities to reopen the Halki Theological School which was closed in 1971 under a law that put religious education under state control.

"We want the Theological School to be opened promptly," Poettering said. "If this isn't done, then phobia of Islam in Western European societies will increase."

Saban Disli, deputy chairman of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party for international relations said the government needed time.

The Halki school trained generations of church leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Orthodox officials say the school's reopening is important for educating future leaders.

Istanbul, once Constantinople, the capital of the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, was captured by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453. Istanbul's Greek population has dwindled to less than 3,000 in recent years, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate remains in the city.

Beirut,10 24 2005
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