Turkey takes small step forward in EU membership talks
01.07.09 @ 09:25
BRUSSELS - Turkey took another small step in its slow EU membership negotiations on Tuesday (30 June) by getting the green light to open discussions in a new policy area.
"We have opened chapter 16 on taxation, an important chapter and a significant one on Turkey's path towards the European Union," Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout, for whose country it was the last day at the helm of the EU, said at a press conference in Brussels.
"This proves the EU's enlargement policy is on track," he added.
It is the 11th of Turkey's 35-chapter accession package that has been opened to negotiations since Ankara started membership talks with the EU nearly four years ago.
It will take some time before this chapter can be closed, however, the minister warned. Turkey has only closed talks in one negotiating area so far, namely science and research.
"There are several benchmarks that need to be met before chapter 16 [on taxation] can be provisionally closed," notably certain taxation reform issues, Mr Kohout said.
The EU also wants Turkey to ratify a customs agreement with EU member state Cyprus and open its ports to Cypriot ships.
But Turkey does not recognise the Greek Cypriot government in the southern part of the divided island, while at the same time being the only country to recognise its northern Turkish Cypriot section.
Eight chapters of Turkey's EU accession package have been officially blocked since 2006 as a result of Ankara's refusal to open its ports to Cypriot ships.
Cyprus is also blocking the energy chapter on this "political issue," as Ankara calls it, while the European Commission considers it ready for opening and says it is up to member states to give the green light.
"Our primary expectation in the period ahead is to start negotiations on those chapters which are ready to be open, but have long been held up for reasons other than technical requirements," Turkish EU minister Egemen Bagis said at the joint press conference with Mr Kohout.
"Most amazingly at a time when Europe is having an energy crisis, [is] the fact that one small member state enjoying the Mediterranean sun, which is not affected ... can jeopardise the energy needs of 490 million Europeans by blocking this [energy] chapter," Mr Bagis went on, referring to Cyprus.
He stressed that Ankara was ready to fulfil its obligations, including doing its "best to help Europe solve its energy crisis," and that it expected the 27-nation bloc to do the same.
"Turkey is prepared to play the game by its rules, but when new rules are introduced to the game while the game is going on, this creates reaction," the minister said.
Turkey has been an official EU candidate since 1999 and despite having started accession negotiations in 2005, some member states, notably France and Germany, still question its membership prospects.