BRUSSELS / ANKARA
Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağıs addresses a joint news conference with European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule (R) after EU-Turkey accession talks in Brussels November 5, 2013. REUTERS Photo
The European Union
opened a new chapter with Turkey on Nov. 5 following a three-year hiatus, with top Turkish officials praising the new era with the bloc even as they demanded accelerated negotiations with the union.
European Union Minister Egemen Bağış and Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz attended the Ministerial Accession Conference in Brussels to start negotiations on Chapter 22 which covers regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. The chapter covers one of the core EU policies, supporting job creation, competitiveness, innovation, economic growth, improved quality of life and sustainable development.
“We need to strengthen our engagement,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said, prompting Bağış to reply: “Stefan, we’re ready not only to get engaged but also to get married.”
President Abdullah Gül said Turkey’s aim was to complete the full membership talks while calling on the bloc to open further chapters and on countries that are blocking the process to remove their vetoes. “In the future, Europe
will discuss political decisions, but this is not today’s main subject. Today’s main point is to complete negotiations and achieve EU standards as soon as possible,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry released a statement welcoming the opening of the chapter. The statement said “political motives” that stood in the way of Turkey’s accession process should be removed.
“It is our primary expectation that all the blockages that come from political motives in the way of Turkey’s membership should be removed immediately to advance the opening of the remaining chapters,” the statement read.
“This is only the beginning,” said Bağış after officially opening negotiations on Chapter 22, one of 35 sets of rules and standards that EU candidates must satisfy before joining the 28-member bloc. For his part, Yılmaz said the EU should not wait for another three years to open a chapter.
Calling for a speed-up in negotiations, Füle said two more chapters on rights and freedoms, and justice and security, chapters 23 and 24, could be opened “very hopefully much sooner than in three-and-a-half years.”
Bağış, meanwhile, also criticized Greek
Cyprus, calling on the administration to not threatens the interests of Turkey and the EU.
In June, the EU agreed to resume the talks but then postponed them for several months due to the Turkish government’s crackdown against Gezi protesters in May and June. At the news conference, both sides were upbeat. Citing a Turkish saying that there cannot be a spring with only one flower, Bağış said: “We hope this is the beginning to ensure a new spring.”
“Let me underline that Turkey is and remains an important partner for the EU. The developments in Turkey over the past year underline the importance of continued EU engagement and of the EU remaining the benchmark for reform in Turkey,” the EU commissioner said.
“We need more engagement, not less. That is why I hope very much that we’ll not be waiting another long period before another chapter is being opened,” Füle said, adding that he would visit Istanbul and Ankara
on Nov. 7-8.