Obama's EU charm offensive hits sour note over Turkey

6th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The United States has long supported Turkey's efforts to become a member of the EU which have made slow progress in the last four years.

Prague -- US President Barack Obama endorsed Turkey's troubled bid for European Union membership on Sunday, exposing a rift with France and Germany that overshadowed the end of his European charm offensive.

Obama, due to fly to Turkey Sunday night after attending an EU-US summit in Prague, said that Turkey's membership of the 27-nation bloc would firmly wrap the mainly Muslim nation into the Western fold.

"The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbours and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence," Obama said in his address to EU leaders.

"Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe," he added.

The United States has long supported Turkey's efforts to become a member of the EU which have made slow progress in the last four years.

Turkey is regarded in Washington as a key US ally and is already a member of NATO, although relations did cool during the presidency of George W. Bush when the United States invaded neighbouring Iraq.

Obama's trip to Turkey, his first as president to a mainly Muslim country, is seen as part of an effort to lock it into the Western camp after fears that it might be slipping away.

However a number of EU countries, most notably France, have been outspoken in their opposition to Turkey's membership of their organisation, worried about the cost of absorbing such a large and relatively poor country.

"I have been working hand in hand with President Obama but when it comes to the European Union it's up to member states of the European Union to decide" on membership, Sarkozy told a French television interview from Prague.

"I have always been opposed to this entry and I remain opposed," he said.

While less outspoken than Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also poured cold water on Obama's support for Turkey's EU ambitions, insisting that the issue remains an open question.

"I believe that a close link between the Muslim world and in particular with Turkey is interesting for us all," she said.

"In what manner and which way that occurs, whether as a privileged partnership or a full (EU) member state, we're still talking about that," she told reporters.

Turkey began accession talks in 2005, but less than a third of the 35 policy areas that candidates must successfully negotiate have been opened, amid a trade row over Cyprus, which it does not recognise.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed Obama's comments and said the goal of Turkish membership remained in place.

"We have started a process of negotiations with Turkey for membership of the European Union and that was a unanimous decision of the European Union, all the 27 member states," he said at a news conference at the end of the summit.

"Of course we have to go on with the negotiations and at the end, we have to see if Turkey is ready to join and if the European Union is ready to integrate Turkey.

"That has been clear and consistent position of the European Commission and therefore I very much welcome the comments of President Obama."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his country's desire to join the bloc when he visited Brussels in January.

Speaking last week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called on Turkey to renew its focus on reforms linked to its EU aspirations.

"It is important to underline that the main fuel of the accession process remains the reforms in Turkey. The pace of negotiations depends on the pace and intensity of the reforms in your country," he stressed, mentioning in particular the need to adopt new laws on the protection of workers.


0 Comments To This Article