Turkey wants EU to open key chapter before re-admission

Turkey wants EU to open key chapter before re-admission

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Turkey for another round of talks about Syrian migrants, Ankara calls on the European Union to open up a key chapter of membership negotiations before the re-admission agreement concerning immigrants comes into effect in June.

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır told Hürriyet Daily News that it was the EU Council’s responsibility to fulfill the commitment made by the EU Commission and he believed “they would find a way to do that.”

“Like they agreed to allocate a 3 billion [euro] package for hosting Syrian migrants in Turkey” Bozkır said. “The EU has to open the 24th chapter before June when the re-admission [agreement] comes into effect.” Bozkır did not give answer the question about how Turkey could respond if the EU fails to open the 24th chapter, repeating that Ankara believed the EU would have to find a way.

The 24th chapter of negotiations carries the title “Justice, Freedom and Security.” It is among the six chapters the Turkish government wanted the EU to open immediately when the council asked in October 2015 for Turkey’s cooperation to handle the Syrian migrant flux. Merkel flew to Istanbul right after the council on Oct. 18 to meet President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. 

In a joint press conference with Davutoğlu, Merkel had acknowledged a four step package, involving the 3 billion euro budget for refugees, Turkey’s return to top EU mechanisms after a freeze of nearly 10 years, free travel for Turkish citizens within the Schengen system as the re-admission is in effect and reactivation of the integration process by opening up negotiation chapters, six of these chapters having priority. Besides the 24th chapter, there are the 15th on Energy, 17th on Economic and Monetary Policy, 23rd on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, 26th on Education and Culture and 31st on Foreign, Security and Defense Policy. 

The EU Commission opened the 17th chapter on Dec. 14 last year but there is no sign of opening up the other five, including the 24th, which is related to the proceedings needed for better cooperation between Turkey and the EU regarding refugees, because of a veto by the Greek Cypriot government. The 23rd chapter is also important not only for basic rights of the refugees but also for the quality of democracy in Turkey where the court independence is a major issue of political debate.

There are ongoing talks between the Turkish and Greek governments in Cypriots for reunification under the auspices of the United Nations. But it is not clear yet whether the EU can convince its member, the Republic of Cyprus, to lift the veto on Turkey’s negotiation proceedings. Merkel had vowed earlier that as Germany was going to do its best to remedy, an issue likely to be discussed during her visit to Turkey today on Feb. 8.

“The EU wants more cooperation on migrants,” Bozkır says, adding, “It also wants judicial reform in Turkey and at the same time, [it] does not open the 23rd and 24th chapters as legal grounds that we can discuss and move on; it is really hard to explain that.”