EU makes fresh commitment for opening of five chapters
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) hugs European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker during a press conference at the end of a summit on relations between the European Union and Turkey and on the migration crisis at the European Council in Brussels on November 29, 2015. AFP photoThe European Union has provided a commitment to Ankara to launch necessary procedures on five accession chapters whose opening is currently under veto by Greek Cyprus, in a bid to deliver on promises recently given to Turkey, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.
The statement, signed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and handed to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and considered as an appendix to the joint statement issued on Nov. 29, promises action on five negotiation chapters: Chapter 15: Energy; Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights; Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security; Chapter 26: Education and culture; and Chapter 31: Foreign security and defense policy.
A joint statement only mentioned Chapter 17, economic and monetary policy, in an announcement regarding an intergovernmental conference on Dec. 14 but noted the possibility of opening other chapters.
“Furthermore, they noted the European Commission’s commitment to complete, in the first quarter of 2016, the preparatory work for the opening of a number of chapters without prejudice to the position of member states. Preparatory work could subsequently begin also on further chapters.”
These chapters, however, could not be named due to Greek Cyprus’ veto.
Turkey’s insistence produces result
But as Turkey insisted in naming the chapters, the two parties agreed on the formula of a letter to be signed by Juncker to Davutoğlu. “This is a letter of commitment which should be thought together with the joint statement. The letter has therefore placed these chapters on record,” a senior Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News.
A diplomatic source of an EU country in Ankara told the Daily News that the letter was an important commitment to Turkey to open the aforementioned chapters and to further re-energize accession talks.
“Among these chapters is the one on energy. We could have provided a much better alignment with Turkey on energy policies and on energy security issues if we could have already managed to open this chapter,” the source said.
Every chapter counts
Both Turkish and European sources underline that each of the five chapters are very important in regards to further harmonizing Turkey’s external policies and democratization processes with that of the EU. Drawing attention to Chapter 31, foreign, security and defense policy, sources admitted that even the ongoing Syrian unrest was sufficient to show how Turkish-EU cooperation was vital for both sides.
“The summit we have in Brussels has made clear that we should further increase our level of alignment in foreign and defense policies. The opening of this chapter  is therefore very significant,” the European source said.
According to the same source, the opening of chapters 23 and 24 will create a more healthy and efficient environment to discuss how best to overcome ongoing difficulties over the Turkish government’s tendency to curb freedom of expression and of press, as well as to exert efforts to harmonize Turkey’s democratic norms with EU standards.
The EU will hold an intergovernmental conference on Dec. 14 to officially open Chapter 17, economic and monetary policy, a development that will likely give fresh momentum to ties between Ankara and Brussels.
In addition, Davutoğlu was invited to attend a meeting on Dec. 17 with eight EU countries that have similar positions on the refugee crisis on the sidelines of the EU Council Summit.
How chapters will be opened?
According to EU rules, there is a need for unanimity for the opening and provisional closing of every negotiation chapter, and even one member’s veto can suspend the process. There has been no progress on these five chapters so far because of the Greek Cypriot vote. However, diplomatic sources have highlighted two processes that could eventually effect the removal of the Greek Cypriot veto for these chapters and others.
The first is the fact that many EU countries, particularly Germany, which have traditionally been cold on Turkey joining the union, have had to change their posture because of the growing refugee crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s active stance during this period to stop the flow of refugees could reflect itself in the form of more pressure on Greek Cyprus to remove its block on the chapters in question.
Second, there is progress on reunification talks in Cyprus that could result in a referendum before the two nations, probably in the first half of 2016. The fact that two parties are nearing an agreement could have a positive impact on Greek Cyprus for the acceleration of Turkey’s accession talks with the EU.