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15th Dec 2019

Van Rompuy makes debut at Turkey-sceptic gathering

Herman Van Rompuy on Thursday (7 January) delivered his first official speech as president of the EU council at a party gathering of Bavarian conservatives, just days after the group caused a stir in Turkey with a paper underlining its opposition to the country's membership of the EU.

Mr Van Rompuy explained his decision to attend the conclave of the Christian-Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, by saying that the EU "needs thriving national democracies."

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  • The former Belgian premier is now the full-time president of the European council (Photo: premier.fgov.be)

"Delivering a speech at a party gathering doesn't make you a party man," the centre-right Belgian politician argued, stressing that in his new EU capacity his "only master to serve" is the collection of EU leaders. The Bavarians had simply been quicker than other political parties to invite him, he added.

The CSU party is a long-standing opponent of Turkey's full membership of the EU, with a position paper confirming its stance leaked ahead of Mr Van Rompuy's visit.

The paper, published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday, called for "an end to the painful EU accession negotiations" and replacing "Turkey's membership perspective with a privileged partnership."

Mr Van Rompuy's speech avoided touching on the Turkey issue. He mentioned enlargement, but only in regard to Croatia and other Western Balkan countries.

Turkish newspapers and politicians have decried the CSU's opposition to Ankara's EU membership bid.

Mr Van Rompuy himself in 2004 said Turkey is not a part of Europe. But since being appointed EU president he has stressed that his personal opinions are "irrelevant," as his job is to seek consensus among member states.

German foreign minister in Turkey

The CSU position paper caused problems for German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who embarked this week on a tour of Muslim countries.

The Liberal politician had to reassure his hosts of Germany's commitment to Turkey's EU bid, Die Welt reports.

"I have not come here as a tourist in shorts, but as foreign minister. What I say, counts," Mr Westerwelle said in Ankara, while underlining that his governing coalition, of which the CSU is also a member, had pledged not to block the negotiation process.

Meanwhile, bickering between the Bavarian conservatives and the Liberals has prompted Ms Merkel to call for a crisis meeting this Sunday and for a "fresh start" for the governing coalition.

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