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New EU president raises fears in aspirant Turkey
Fri Nov 20, 2009 1:31pm EST
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By Ibon Villelabeitia
ANKARA (Reuters) - Herman Van Rompuy's appointment as the first European Union president provoked fears in Turkey that he might hinder Ankara's hopes of joining the bloc, with some media declaring outright that he is anti-Turkish.
Turkish newspapers were quick to dig out past comments attributed to Van Rompuy that the EU's Christian values would lose vigor if Muslim Turkey were let in.
Turkish politicians and academics reacted more cautiously to the Belgian Prime Minister's elevation to the new EU job on Thursday, but few drew much comfort from it.
One front-page newspaper headline on Friday declared baldly: "The EU first president is anti-Turkish."
Turkish officials, who would have preferred someone more positive to Turkey such as former British prime minister Tony Blair, reacted coolly to Van Rompuy's appointment.
"It is difficult to interpret the selection in an optimistic way, but I do not see it having an impact directly in the short term," said Suat Kiniklioglu, the ruling AK Party's deputy chairman of foreign relations. "I hope he revises his views in the short term. But I can't be optimistic."
Turkish views on Van Rompuy, a Christian Democrat, have been shaped by comments that he is reported to have made while opposition leader five years ago.
"Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe," the independent online newspaper EUobserver.com quoted him as saying in December, 2004.
"The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigor with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey," he told a meeting of the Council of Europe on the subject of Turkey's possible entry into the EU.
Asked about his past views on Turkey, Van Rompuy told a news conference on Thursday that his personal views were "irrelevant" and that in his new role he would be seeking as much consensus as possible within member states.
"Van Rompuy is a compromise candidate, but he is obviously backed by France and Germany, so this is not good news for Turkey," said Huseyin Bagci, a professor of international relations at Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German's Chancellor Angela Merkel have said they would sooner offer Turkey a "privileged partnership" than full EU membership.
"It is not the end of the road, but Turkey needs to make progress and soon," said Bagci.
EU countries agreed unanimously in 2005 to start talks with Turkey with the goal of full membership, but the bloc appears deeply divided on the issue.
Turkey is a valued member of the NATO alliance, but opponents of its bid to join the EU say the Muslim country of 72 million is too poor and culturally different to fit in. Continued...
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