France's new minister for Europe, who previously stated he wanted Turkey to join the European Union, said he would carry out his government's policy of keeping Ankara out of the wealthy bloc.
Pierre Lellouche, who was appointed in a reshuffle of right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, said during Wednesday's handover ceremony that he has a responsibility to carry out his government’s policies although he has differing views on Turkey’s EU membership bid. "There is one government policy, there are not two, and it is the government's policy that I will carry out," Agence France-Presse quoted Lellouche as saying.
In 2004, before Turkey started negotiations with the EU, Lellouche strongly advocated Turkey’s accession to the European bloc, saying: "You should be mad to say no to Turkey’s EU integration. The aim of the European Union is not to establish neither a Christian Union nor a club of the rich." Sarkozy appointed Lellouche as a special envoy for Turkey last year. The French minister, who is also known for his pro-U.S. stance, was previously France's envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Turkey’s initial reaction
Turkey initially reacted enthusiastically to Lellouche’s nomination. "This is wonderful information," Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister in charge of EU negotiations, said late on Tuesday.
"Mr. Lellouche is someone whose opinion has been known in France for a long time to support Turkey's accession, and now he has been named to head European affairs."
Apart from Lellouche, Sarkozy made a number of critical changes in his cabinet, including bringing in the nephew of the country’s late Socialist leader Francois Mitterand as culture minister, while critics accused him of sidelining women and minorities. Prime Minister Francois Fillon stays at the helm, but six ministers were fired and two left to take European parliament seats, including Rachida Dati, the glamorous emblem of Sarkozy's drive to promote ethnic minorities.
Frederic Mitterand, a gay TV presenter and writer, left his job as head of the Villa Medici French cultural academy in Rome to become culture minister.
Mitterand is also known to be a friend of Turkey; he has visited the country several times and prepared informative programs on Turkey for French television. Despite his lineage, the 61-year-old Mitterand was never a card-carrying Socialist. He backed the right-winger Jacques Chirac as president in 1995 and even professes a royalist streak.
But Mitterand’s name alone enables Sarkozy, who has pursued a strategy of poaching high-profile defectors from rival camps, to score points against the beleaguered Socialists.
The left-wing Liberation newspaper described his appointment as "a bad joke played on the opposition," while several papers called it a "political coup."
Meanwhile, Carl Lang, a member of the far-right National Front Party and the member of the European Parliament for the northwest of France, bitterly blasted Lellouche’s appointment as the country’s new minister for Europe.
Lang said Sarkozy, who strongly opposes Turkey’s EU membership bid, has betrayed his electorate with this appointment, according to a report by the Anatolia news agency.
France and Germany lead the opposition to Turkey's membership in the EU. Turkey began membership talks in 2005, and has started negotiations in 10 of the 35 policy areas that candidate countries must bring in line with EU rules. If negotiations succeed, Turkey, with its 76 million people, will be the first major Muslim country in the 27-nation bloc.