France ready to unblock EU-Turkey talks
France wants to "give a new impetus" to Turkey's EU membership talks, allowing negotiations to resume this week after a break of almost three years.
"We are favourable to the idea of opening talks on what is called chapter 22," French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday (12 February) in Paris after meeting his Turkish counterpart on the margins of a conference on Libya.
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A spokesman for the foreign ministry later the same day confirmed that France, a long-term opponent of Turkish EU accession, has had a change of heart and wants to "give a new impetus to EU-Turkey relations."
He said Paris also expects Ankara to "contribute concretely to this dynamic."
Turkey began its EU accession process back in 1963 with a tailor-made "association agreement."
It formally applied to join in 1987 and started accession talks in 2005.
But the negotiations stalled three years ago, in part due to Cyprus' complaint that Turkish soldiers continue to occupy the north part of the island.
France has also proved hesitant to opening new areas in the negotiations, however - out of the 35 so-called chapters, just one has been concluded so far.
France's former President, Nicolas Sarkozy had openly said that Turkey should never get into the EU.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel still shares Sarkozy's view, but she says her government will not block Turkey's membership talks as such.
The impasse has prompted frequent complaints from Ankara.
In its latest salvo, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week said on TV that he might join the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, a multilateral Asian body, instead of the Union.
For his part, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele welcomed the French development.
"France's signal of readiness for the EU to restart discussions on regional policy with Turkey adds to momentum to make 2013 a turning point in our relations," he tweeted.
Technical talks on chapter 22, which deals with regional aid and how to align Turkey's legislation to EU rules in this field, are expected to start later this week. But first, the Irish EU presidency needs to get the consensus of all the other member states to move ahead.
Meanwhile, Cyprus is also expected to soften its stance if presidential elections on Sunday put a new administration in power.
Turkey will also need to move, however.
The EU wants it to open access to its ports and airports for Cypriot vessels and airlines.
Concerns over Turkish human rights abuses, the role of the military in Turkish politics and internal conflicts with the Kurdish minority in Turkey are also irritants in EU-Turkish relations.