Sarkozy cancels Sweden visit over Turkey
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has cancelled a visit to Sweden scheduled for next Tuesday (2 June) in order to avoid a clash on the question of Turkey's EU membership just days before the European elections and a month before Stockholm takes over the EU's rotating presidency.
Officially, Mr Sarkozy's office said the trip was cancelled "for agenda reasons."
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But the French president, who is an outspoken opponent of Turkey's entry to the European Union, did not want to highlight the strong divergence of views on this topic with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Le Monde reported on Thursday (28 May).
Sweden favours further EU enlargement, including to Turkey. On Monday this week, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told Le Figaro newspaper that the EU had "a strategic interest" in Turkey's EU integration and warned against "closing the door" to Ankara.
"If we judge Cyprus to be in Europe, although it is as in island along Syria's shores, it is hard not to consider that Turkey is in Europe," Mr Bildt said, referring to Mr Sarkozy's repeated statements that Turkey is not a European country and does not belong to Europe.
Additionally, Mr Sarkozy probably did not appreciate that Mr Bildt expressed views different from his on the economy, French newspapers comment.
In the Figaro interview, Mr Bildt said: "My vision of Europe is not as defensive as I observe it with other people."
In a reference to aid plans for the car industry - very much promoted by Mr Sarkozy - the Swedish top diplomat said that for him, "spending taxpayers' money to subsidise existing structures is a very good way of wasting money."
The French president's trip to Sweden was cancelled the day after the interview was published.
"Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled his visit because of the Carl Bildt interview," one minister told Le Monde.
"The president wanted to avoid a clash on Turkey and did not want that his visit to Sweden interferes with the elections [five days later]. There are [also] too many dossiers that are too important to prepare with the Swedish EU presidency to spoil that visit," another official told the paper.
The upcoming Swedish EU presidency is the real reason behind the cancellation, rather than the context of the European elections, according to Le Figaro journalist Pierre Rousseiln.
"Nicolas Sarkozy does not fear confrontation," he wrote in his blog, adding that defending his position in Sweden could even have been beneficial for Mr Sarkozy ahead of next Sunday's vote.
If he refused to go to Stockholm, he did it to avoid a clash just a month before the Swedish EU presidency starts and it is a sign that Mr Sarkozy is expecting a number of difficulties during Sweden's six-month term at the head of the bloc, Mr Rousselin wrote.
The French president's office is currently working on rescheduling the visit for another date before the end of June.