New Pope's Views on Turkey/EU Stir Unease in Ankara

Wed Apr 20, 2005 9:49 AM BST

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish newspapers said on Wednesday that the new pope's opposition to Ankara joining the European Union could raise fresh obstacles to its membership.
Joseph Ratzinger, elected pope on Tuesday, has said Muslim but secular Turkey should seek its future in an association of Islamic nations rather than the EU, which has Christian roots.
In an interview last year for France's Le Figaro Magazine, Ratzinger, then doctrinal head of the Roman Catholic Church, said Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.
"The new pope is against Turkey," said the liberal daily Radikal in a headline.
The centrist Milliyet described Ratzinger as "one of the fathers of the concept for offering Turkey a privileged partnership" instead of EU membership.
German and French conservatives also favor "a privileged partnership" for Turkey falling well short of full membership. Ankara, which is due to start entry talks with the EU on Oct. 3, says it is interested only in membership.
"It would be bad news if Cardinal Ratzinger continues to hold his views as Pope Benedict XVI," said commentator Selcuk Gultasli in the pro-government Zaman daily.
"At a time of rising opposition against Turkey's EU membership in countries like France, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands, the Vatican joining this opposition would send a wrong message not only to Turks but also to Muslims."
"Undoubtedly, the EU is a secular union ... but despite this secularity the Vatican's influence should not be underestimated," he added.