PARIS - French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy said Turkey's entry into the European Union would "be the end of political Europe" and suggested it would worsen the "problem" of Muslim integration in the continent, in an interview to be published Thursday.
"It would be the end of political Europe" if Turkey joined the European bloc, Sarkozy, France's interior minister, told the magazine Le Meilleur des Mondes, calling instead for a "privileged partnership" with the EU's southeastern neighbour.
Outlining what he saw as dangerous implications for the EU's world political clout, Sarkozy said that Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush supported Turkey joining the EU because they didn't want "a political Europe".
Turkey began talks with Brussels last year with a view to joining the 25-nation bloc, which is due to absorb a further two members, Bulgaria and Romania, on January 1.
Sarkozy also explained his opposition to welcoming Ankara into the EU fold by citing what he said was the already existing "problem" of integrating Muslims into Europe.
"We have a problem of integration of Muslims which raises the issue of Islam in Europe. To say it is not a problem is to hide from reality. If you let 100 million Turkish Muslims come in, what will come of it?" the magazine quoted him as saying.
The minister, who heads the ruling right-wing UMP party and has declared he will run for president in next year's elections, also expressed concern that shifting Europe's border southeast would bring it closer to violent conflicts in the region.
"Turkey is in Asia Minor... I will not explain to little French school children that the frontiers of Europe are Iraq and Syria," Sarkozy said, naming two of Turkey's southeastern neighbours.
If the EU accepts Turkey, "we will have made the Kurdish problem a European problem. Wonderful!" he said, apparently referring to the bloody conflict between Turkish authorities and militants demanding self-rule for the country's ethnic Kurdish population.
Once the Kurdish issue is admitted as a European problem, "it remains to make Hamas and Hezbollah European problems" too, he argued, referring to the Palestinian governing party and the Lebanon-based Shiite militant movement.
Expanding his theoretical argument further, Sarkozy raised the prospect of former French colonies in north Africa, such as Morocco and Tunisia, also joining Europe.
"Then Europe, which will become a sub-region of the United Nations, will no longer exist," he said. "If to stabilise Turkey we must destabilise Europe, I say that's a high price to pay."