EU-US summit exposes divisions over Turkey
France and Germany in Prague on Sunday (5 April) poured cold water on US calls to press ahead with Turkish enlargement. In a seperate development, Czech politicians named statistician Jan Fischer as the country's new caretaker prime minister.
"The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbours and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence," US President Barack Obama said at an EU-US summit in the Czech capital.
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"Moving forward toward 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 remarks drew criticism for interference in EU affairs from French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, who reiterated his long-standing opposition to Turkish accession.
"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," he told France's TF1 TV station from Prague.
"I have always been opposed to this entry and I still am. I think I can say the immense majority of member states shares the position of France."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel used more diplomatic language, saying the EU should have a "close link" with Turkey. "In which manner and way that occurs, whether as a privileged partnership or a full member state, we're still talking about that."
Turkey began EU accession talks in 2004. But the process is being held up by historic enmity between Turkey and EU member Cyprus and broader EU worries over Turkish respect for Western values such as freedom of the press.
The US leader also urged Europe to take in Guantanamo Bay prisoners after the camp is shut down and to "do more" for the Afghanistan war effort - two areas where EU states remain divided.
He called the EU-US relationship "one of the key foundations for progress in the world" and urged a common approach on global warming, one week after Democrats in Washington put forward a bill to cut CO2 by 20 percent by 2020 on 2005 levels, falling slightly short of EU targets.
"We welcome the steps taken by the new American administration and the increasing convergence between the European and US position on that matter," European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said.
Greenpeace says the cuts should hit 40 percent by 2020 on 1990 levels if they are to make an impact.
Mr Obama flew to Ankara after the EU-US meeting for the last leg of his European tour. The Wall Street Journal reports that Turkey is to unfreeze diplomatic relations with Armenia to coincide with the US visit.
New EU president
In unrelated developments, Czech political parties on Sunday nominated the head of the country's statistics office, Jan Fischer, to take over as prime minister until snap elections on 9 October.
If formally approved, the 58-year old mathematician and former Communist party member will take the reins on 9 May.
With the Czech Republic currently holding the EU presidency, Mr Fischer would be eligible to chair the EU-China summit later that month and the EU summit in June. A new caretaker cabinet will chair the 17 EU minister-level meetings left.
The Czech government fell in a no confidence vote on 24 March, at an embarassing time ahead of the US summit.