- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as president of France is likely to make Turkey’s membership in the European Union more elusive than ever, Turkish analysts say.

His categorical opposition to Turkish membership in the 27-nation bloc is “hammering the last nail into the coffin of Turkish-EU relations,” one analyst said.

“This is bad for Turkey,” said Mehet Ali Birand, a leading Turkish liberal commentator.

During his electoral campaign, Mr. Sarkozy stressed his view that Turkey is not a European country and that its membership would dilute the bloc’s cohesion and dangerously stretch its borders. Mr. Sarkozy also has said he would sign a French bill passed by parliament penalizing all those who deny the genocide of Armenians.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s embattled prime minister, asked the European Commission “to avoid statements and attitudes that would negatively affect our negotiating process.”

As it is, the process has been dogged by problems that include Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government, the degree of Turkish freedom of expression, the army’s role in politics, and its refusal to acknowledge World War I Ottoman massacres of Armenians.

Turkey’s negotiations with the European bloc have stalled. The European Union has suspended talks on eight of 35 parts of the negotiating process, but European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the whole concept is based not on one country’s views but “on the basis of a mandate decided unanimously.”

Instead of admitting Turkey, Mr. Sarkozy has proposed that the European Union give the country the leading role in a planned grouping of Mediterranean-area countries. Turkey has rejected suggestions of a “privileged association” with the bloc.

Regardless of whether Mr. Sarkozy’s election will have an immediate effect on Turkey’s EU talks, relations between France and Turkey appear to be heading into troubled waters.

After the French National Assembly vote on the massacres of Armenians in October, Turkey froze contacts with a French pipeline consortium and warned the United States that approval of a similar bill by the U.S. Congress would cast “a serious shadow” on its relations with Washington.

According to the mass-circulation Istanbul daily Milliyet, Mr. Sarkozy’s election “will further worsen the already chilly Turkish-French ties.”

Meanwhile, popular disinterest among Turks toward the European Union has been growing. “The enthusiasm is gone,” said Can Baydarol, a Turkish political scientist. “Turkey could easily move toward a more isolationist policy.”

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