VILNIUS - Parliament hosted a lively discussion on Turkish membership in the European Union this week, with questions of religion and Cyprus taking the center stage.
Bulent Arinc, chairman of Turkey's Grand National Assembly, said by starting membership talks with Muslim Turkey, the European Union would show the world that it is not just a "Christian club."
"Turkey's membership to the EU will make it clear that, contrary to what some circles seem to assert, the European Union is actually not a 'Christian club,' but a union where people of all religions, languages and races can live in peace and harmony provided they adhere to a set of common values," Arinc said.
In his words, Turkey's membership will increase the EU's influence in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East. "Either it will choose enlargement and become a union with a dynamic economy and a global power, or it will be confined within its borders and become a regional organization that struggles to overcome its structural problems," Arinc said.
Turkey is hoping that the EU will start talks about full membership on Oct. 3.
Lithuania's Parliamentary Speaker Arturas Paulauskas said that Lithuania "would support Turkey's membership politically and practically," and that it approves the beginning of talks.
He admitted, however, that the recognition of Cyprus may be "one of the most difficult" problems in Turkey's membership talks. "Without a doubt, the process of negotiations may be difficult and long, and the issue of Cyprus may be one of the toughest ones," Paulauskas said at a press briefing after the discussion.
Arinc said the recognition of Cyprus had never been a criterion to start talks, and the problem could not be solved unilaterally.
Despite Turkey's refusal to recognize Cyprus, an EU member state, Paulauskas said Lithuania supported Ankara. "The issue of Cyprus was touched upon during the conversations as well, but Lithuania clearly speaks in favor of Turkey's Euro-Atlantic goals," he said.
"We think that Turkey has met its previous commitments, which determine the possibility to start talks on Oct. 3," Paulauskas said.
Colin Roberts, U.K.'s ambassador to Lithuania, said that London would do everything to ensure that the start of negotiations with Turkey went smoothly.
He explained that Turkey's membership would be beneficial economically and would contribute to the fight against terrorism and better relations with Muslims.
Some EU states fear that Turkey, which has a population of 70 million, mostly Muslims, will change the face of Europe beyond recognition and therefore suggest offering the country only a special partnership status.
According to a poll carried out by Eurobarometer in the middle of this year, Turkey's membership in the EU is supported by 42 percent of the bloc's residents. In Turkey, the country's EU membership is supported by some 70 percent of its residents.