updated 10/1/2004 9:40:00 AM ET 2004-10-01T13:40:00

President Jacques Chirac said Friday that France will decide in a referendum whether it wants Turkey to join the European Union — a potential blow to the Muslim-majority country's bid.

Chirac said he has asked the government to prepare a constitutional amendment that would require a referendum to be held whenever the EU wants to take in a new member.

The French people "will have their say," Chirac said at a news conference alongside German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The proposal could jeopardize Turkey's aspirations for joining the EU, whose members must unanimously approve any new nation's application for membership. Recent polls show the French public opposes Turkey's accession.

In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters: "May it be for the best."

The leaders of the EU nations are to decide in December whether to give Turkey a date to start membership talks. However, it could take Turkey 10 to 15 years to meet the criteria required for it to join the EU.

Ten new members joined the bloc last May.

No referendum on Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia
However, France will not hold a referendum on whether Romania, Bulgaria or Croatia should join the EU, the president said, because negotiations for those countries are already under way.

Chirac has spoken of admitting Turkey at some point in the future, although many of his supporters in the ruling Union for a Popular Movement are opposed.

Both Chirac and Schroeder said Friday they would like to see Turkey join the EU.

The country's membership "would be a very good thing ... because it would "establish a link between European and nonfundamentalist Islamic values," Schroeder said.

Chirac reiterated previous statements that he did not foresee immediate Turkish membership, but that: "It is obvious that it is in our interest to have Turkey with us."

Membership of Turkey, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, would stretch the EU's borders to Syria and Iraq — a fact that some opponents say moves Europe too close to the unstable Middle East.

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