Offering thaw, EU opens new chapter with Turkey

Offering thaw, EU opens new chapter with Turkey

Offering thaw, EU opens new chapter with Turkey

This file photo taken on June 20, 2007 shows a view of the Berlaymont building, the European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels, on the eve of a European Union summit. AFP PHOTO

The European Union agreed Oct. 22 to restart membership talks with Turkey next month, reviving Ankara’s long-stalled bid after a three-year break. The announcement received a cautious welcome from Turkey, with EU Minister Egemen Bağış saying it was important to open a new chapter but warning that “it takes more than one flower for it to be spring.”

EU European and foreign affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg said the talks would resume in two weeks, with an inter-governmental conference to be held in Brussels on Nov. 5. The chapter on regional development - Chapter 22 - will be the 14th of 35 opened with Turkey.

The 28-nation bloc agreed to the resumption in principle in June, but then postponed talks in protest over the Turkish government’s crackdown on Gezi Park protesters.

EU Minister Bağış said the announcement represented a long delayed positive development. “Right after the release of the Progress Report we demanded from the EU to start the procedure for opening a new chapter. We will go to Brussels with Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz in November and attend the ceremony marking the opening of the chapter,” Bağış said in an interview with private broadcaster NTV. “We see Nov. 5 as an important milestone, but it takes more than one flower for it to be spring,” he said.

“We want to see the determination from the EU of opening of different chapters. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have meetings with senior EU officials after Nov. 5. He is scheduled to visit Brussels in December or January,” he said.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle said the 28-member bloc’s accession talks with Turkey should be speeded up to help Ankara implement democratic reforms. “Recent developments in Turkey underline the importance of EU engagement and of the EU remaining the benchmark for reform in Turkey,” he added.

Earlier this month in the Progress Report, the European Commission praised recent judicial reforms in Turkey and the government’s recently announced “democratization package.” It accused the Turkish police, however, of using excessive force to quell protests in May and June, urging the government to strengthen oversight of the police and to press ahead with investigations into their conduct.

“Accession negotiations need to regain momentum, respecting the EU’s commitments and established conditionality,” Füle said in a statement. “I hope more chapters will follow.” Despite criticism from some that the bloc has grown too big too fast, he also hailed “the transformative power” of the enlargement process.

The commissioner 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.

Minister Bağış also said Turkey was determined to open new chapters, notably Chapters 23-24. “Mr. Füle called on the EU to open Chapters 23-24 after the release of the report. We have always emphasized that these chapters should be opened. Criticisms toward Turkey, whether in reports or in bilateral meetings, are related to these chapters,” Bağış said. Chaper 23 covers judicial and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 covers justice, freedom and security.

Turkey began accession talks with the EU as far back as 2005, at 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.

Progress Report for EU

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, while Greek Cyprus has blocked eight chapters because of Ankara’s refusal to open sea and air ports to the Greek Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Oct.22 that the Progress Report had confirmed his government’s determination for reforms, while he also criticized the presence of “inaccurate assessments” within.

The prime minister suggested that it would be appropriate for the European Commission to draft “a Progress Report” for both the EU and the current member states. “Is preparing a Progress Report for Turkey the sole issue for Europe? The EU couldn’t display a stance in regards to what has happened in Syria and couldn’t even dare to call the military coup in Egypt a coup. We sincerely expect the EU to prepare its own progress report,” Erdoğan said in a speech delivered at a parliamentary group meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

His remarks on the progress report came a day after the top EU diplomat in Ankara acknowledged that implementation of fundamental rights could sometimes be problematic, even in some EU-member states.