EU, Turkey to open new membership chapter
BRUSSELS – Anadolu Agency
Turkey’s stalled European Union accession process is set to move forward with the opening of a new chapter on financial and budgetary provisions on June 30 as promised to Ankara in return for its cooperation on stemming the flow of refugees from Syria.
Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, told state-run Anadolu Agency on June 28 that the opening of the chapter, number 33, was significant since it is usually opened when a candidate nears membership, meaning it was contributing to “keeping the accession process alive.”
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also confirmed Yenel’s statements during a parliamentary group address on June 28, expressing hopes the development would be beneficial for the country.
“It was decided during the March 18 Turkey-EU summit to open Chapter 33 on financial and budgetary provisions before the end of the end of the Netherlands’ EU presidency [at the end of June],” Yıldırım said.
Chapter 33 will be the 16th chapter to be opened as part of the country’s accession process. There are still five chapters being blocked by Greek Cyprus.
“If there is progress on the Cyprus issue, and a final resolution is reached, then it will be possible to promptly open these [five] chapters and membership negotiations will return to their normal pace,” the ambassador said.
Yenel also said Turkish and EU officials would hold an intergovernmental conference on the opening of Chapter 33 on June 30, with the attendance of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Finance Minister Naci Ağbal and EU Minister Ömer Çelik. In addition to Chapter 33, Çavuşoğlu and Çelik will also discuss five key criteria for visa-free access to the Schengen Zone, Yenel said.
“They will meet with the first vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, after an intergovernmental conference in order to discuss the remaining five benchmarks. They will establish a roadmap in this regard. Our goal is to ensure visa liberalization at the earliest,” Yenel added.
Turkey and the EU agreed on a plan to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of Syrian and non-Syrian refugees in March, in exchange for the rekindling of Turkey’s accession process, an additional 3 billion euros in aid to be used toward meeting the needs of Syrian refugees and visa-free travel to Schengen countries for Turkish citizens.
With the deal, Turkey started taking back migrants on March 20, while the EU started taking one migrant from Turkey for every one returned from the EU as part of efforts to reduce deadly illegal crossings across the Aegean Sea.
The deal has a hit a stumbling block, however, as the aforementioned benchmarks include an EU demand that Turkey alter its draconian anti-terror laws, which have been used to incarcerate journalists and human rights advocates amid deadly fighting in the southeast.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently lashed out at Brussels for its treatment of Ankara, saying Turkey could hold a referendum to decide on whether to continue its accession process.
“We can stand up and ask the people just like the British are doing,” Erdoğan said in a speech late June 22 at a fast-breaking dinner, quoted by the state-run Anadolu Agency.
With the question of Turkey’s possible membership being raised in the British referendum, Ankara has been angered by comments from London suggesting that it has no realistic chance of joining the bloc in the medium term.
During the campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron said Turkish membership was not “remotely on the cards” and may not happen until the year 3000.