EU restarts membership talks with Turkey after 3-year break
LUXEMBOURG (AFP) – The European Union agreed Tuesday to restart membership talks with Turkey next month, ending a three-year freeze despite Ankara’s crackdown on protests this year.
EU European and foreign affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg said talks would resume in a fortnight, with an inter-governmental conference to be held in Brussels on November 5.
Keen to breathe new life into Ankara’s long-stalled effort to prise open the EU door, the 28-nation bloc had agreed to the resumption in principle in June, but then postponed the process in protest over Turkey’s spring crackdown.
The November negotiations will focus on regional development, one of 35 chapters or sets of EU rules and standards that candidate states must satisfy before winning entry to the club.
Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bagis called Tuesday’s decision to resume accession talks a “delayed but positive development.”
In Brussels, the bloc’s Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele too welcomed the decision.
“Accession negotiations need to regain momentum, respecting the EU’s commitments and established conditionality,” he said in a statement.
“I hope more chapters will follow.”
Despite criticism from some that the bloc has grown too big too quickly, Fuele has hailed “the transformative power” of the enlargement process.
He says the many benchmarks set so a country can join helped bring the troubled Balkans region into the democratic fold and this year led to a historic accord between Serbia and Kosovo.
That is an opinion shared by Britain, which has been pushing hard for the EU to bring Turkey into the fold.
A UK spokesman in Brussels said “the EU process has driven wide-ranging reform in Turkey. We have a shared interest in maintaining an active and credible accession process.”
Fuele is eager for talks to start soon with Turkey on two other chapters, one on fundamental freedoms and the other on the rule of law — chapters 23 and 24.
When asked about Turkey’s expectations about opening negotiations on those chapters, Bagis told the private NTV network: “We hope that the 27 member states will convince the Greek Cypriot administration to remove obstacles standing before the opening of the two chapters.”
Turkey began accession talks with the EU as far back as 2005, the same time as Croatia which this year became the bloc’s 28th member.
But the talks have broken down because of Turkey’s long-standing territorial dispute with Cyprus, a member of the bloc since 2004, as well as opposition from major powers France and Germany.
The chapter on regional development — chapter 22 — will be the 14th of 35 opened with Turkey. A country needs to successfully close negotiations on all 35 before joining the EU.
So far Turkey has closed only one chapter — chapter 25 on science and research. And Cyprus has blocked eight chapters because of Ankara’s refusal to open sea and air ports to Cyprus.
A fresh delay in opening chapter 22 would have strengthened doubts about whether the predominantly Muslim country of 76 million people will ever be admitted to the European club.