BRUSSELS, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The leading candidate for the first president of European Council says he opposes Turkey's bid to join the European Union because it is an Islamic country.
Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy reportedly has the backing of France and Germany for the European Union presidency, expected to be decided during a meeting of the organization's leaders Thursday, EUobserver.com reported. Also to be decided is a new European Union foreign policy position at the meeting in Brussels.
Five years ago, Van Rompuy spoke against Turkey joining the EU, saying it would dilute Europe's Christian values and heritage, The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.
"Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe," he said in a 2004 speech. "The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigor with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey."
His views have earned support from Vlaams Belang, the far-right Flemish anti-immigrant party in Belgium, the British newspaper said.
"We are entirely in agreement with Van Rompuy over this question and are convinced he will defend this point of view as president of the EU," said Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter. "It is for this reason we openly support him."
Belgian officials confirmed to EUobserver the speech was made, but said the comments were spoken when Van Rompuy was in the opposition.
Anticipating that Britain -- which opposes Van Rompuy as an EU presidential candidate and which favors Turkey's admission to the organization -- would jump on his years-old remarks, one official said, "Things that are said in opposition ... are different from what you find yourself saying when in government."