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New EU president urged to clarify views on Turkey's future

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU parliament's Green party on Friday called on Herman Van Rompuy, the man chosen to become the first EU president, to clarify his position regarding Turkey's candidature which he opposed in a 2004 speech.

"I am concerned at the nomination as European Council head of a politician who has argued with conviction that Turkey joining would constitute a threat to Europe's fundamental values," said Green MEP Helene Flautre, co-president of the European parliament's EU-Turkey committee.

Belgian Prime Minister Van Rompuy, chosen by EU leaders at a Brussels summit Thursday, "must explain himself on Turkey" she insisted, adding that the great support shown to him by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy "is doubtless not unconnected to his 'former' conviction on Turkey."

The EU Greens support Turkish entry in the EU though accession negotiations are moving at glacial pace.

France and Germany in contrast remain opposed to entry for the largely Muslim nation and would prefer Ankara to be offered some kind of privileged partnership.

In December 2004, addressing the Belgian parliament while in opposition, Van Rompuy, a fervent Roman Catholic, declared: "an expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past."

"The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey."

The speech was recently picked up by the British press which has been largely critical of Van Rompuy.

Britain also favours accepting Turkey into the EU club.

Van Rompuy's entourage sought to play down the row, stressing that the comments in question were those of an opposition MP rather than a government position.

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