ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The European Union and business leaders appealed to Turkey yesterday to join a European Energy Community to help boost investment in its power sector, but the country’s energy minister cited several reasons for stalling. At a conference staged to highlight Turkey’s strategic importance to the EU as an energy hub, Ankara faced strong pressure, including from its own industrialists, to sign up to a treaty setting a legal framework for energy investments. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Turkey stood to gain more foreign investment and better capacity to meet its fast-growing domestic power needs if it became a full member of the treaty, to which it became an observer last year. «Turkey can help the EU secure its energy supply, while integration into the EU’s internal energy market will enable Turkey to build a functioning and reliable domestic energy market and the infrastructure needed for its rapid economic growth,» Rehn said in a speech. Leaders on both sides stressed Turkey’s potential as an alternative supply route to Russia for Central Asian oil and gas, reducing Europe’s dependence on Moscow. The head of the Turkish industry federation Tusiad, Arzuhan Dogan Yalcindag, criticized the government for dragging its feet on liberalization and privatization of the energy sector and urged it to sign up to the Energy Community Treaty. But Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler responded at a news conference, «We are rather hesitant to sign on the treaty.» Turkey needed a transition period to make major investments in its domestic energy infrastructure before it could join the Energy Community as an equal partner, he said. Roberto Poti, vice president of Italian electricity giant Edison, told the conference fast-growing Turkey faced a rising electricity shortfall unless it could attract more foreign investment by creating the right legal environment. EU diplomats said the issue was about power and control. Some Turkish leaders appeared to fear the EU would have no interest in admitting Turkey once it gained unfettered investment access to its energy sector through the treaty. Some felt Turkey should extract more concessions on its EU accession process as a price for joining the community, fearing it would face unequal pressure from Brussels if it signed the treaty without a firm prospect of EU membership.