EU divided over Turkey chapter opening

EU divided over Turkey chapter opening

BRUSSELS – Hürriyet Daily News
EU divided over Turkey chapter opening

Hürriyet photo

The decision of whether or not to delay Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union has been postponed to June 24, as members of the 27-nation bloc try to change the position of Germany, which is insisting on a halt to negotiations as a response to Ankara’s crackdown on protestors.

The EU was set to open talks on Chapter 22, regional policies, next week, after a delay of three years. The representatives of the member states in the European Commission met yesterday to adopt a common position on whether to give a green light to Turkey, but failing that they decided to take up the issue in their next meeting on June 24.

Germany’s decision to block the opening of this chapter due to domestic political reasons caused a rift within the EU countries. Although the Netherlands and Austria are aligned with Germany on this chapter, a significant majority of countries criticized the EU heavyweight and called on it not to block the opening of the chapter on regional policies. Italy, France, Sweden, Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom have been actively engaged to convince Germany, underlining that this move would fully nix the EU’s leverage on Turkey. The issue was brought to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attention during the G-8 meeting, but her resistance has yet to be overcome thus far.

On June 24, the foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc will also meet but the disagreement over Turkey was not put on the agenda of the meeting, according to EU sources. This seems to be a deliberate decision in order to provide more space for behind the scenes talks between member countries. “If the issue was put on the agenda of the ministers, that would have put the whole problem under the spotlight and the positions could have become more entrenched,” an EU official who asked to remain anonymous told the Hürriyet Daily News. Member countries trying to convince Germany said that the EU could only address all of the issues of concern in Turkey by remaining engaged with Ankara.

‘This chapter a milestone’

A Foreign Ministry official said the chapter had great importance. “The chapter will mark an important milestone in our relations with the EU. We are still awaiting for the common sense to prevail so that this chapter will be opened at the end of this month,” the official told the Hürriyet Daily News, recalling that the decision-making process among the 27 countries was still continuing. “In the case of failure of the opening of this chapter, we will be obliged to give a reaction,” the official stressed, without giving details.

However, suspending political dialogue, cancelling high-level visits to and from Brussels and calling Turkey’s permanent representative to the EU back to Ankara for consultations are among potential measures the Turkish government is mulling over. Despite the fact that full membership negotiations started in 2006, Turkey has only opened 13 chapters out of 35 and has closed only one chapter. The last chapter the EU to be opened was in June 2010.