Sarkozy, Obama clash over Turkey’s EU bid
In a response to US President Barack Obama’s call to admit Turkey into the EU, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says Turkish membership should be decided by EU member states.PRAGUE – US President Barack Obama threw his backing Sunday behind Turkey's bid to join the European Union before being slapped down by French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy for intervening in the bloc's affairs.
Obama told European Union leaders at an EU-US summit in Prague 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.
"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."
The US has long supported Turkey's efforts to become a member of the EU which have made slow progress in the last four years.
Turkey has long been regarded 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 US 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 it might be slipping away.
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."
Sarkozy's comments knocked some of the gloss off the pair's rapport. Obama had praised the French president for his "marvellous" leadership when he hosted a NATO summit last week.
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 press 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, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called on Turkey to renew its focus on reforms linked to its EU aspirations.
AFP / Expatica