Thursday

5th May 2016

Germany ready to re-start EU-Turkey talks

  • Merkel in Kahramanmaras - the German troops hear what is going in Syria by intercepting radio signals (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed France on re-starting EU accession talks with Turkey.

Speaking in a regular, weekly podcast on Saturday (23 February), before going on a two-day visit to Turkey on Sunday, she said: "I think a long negotiating path lies ahead of us. Although I am sceptical, I agreed with the continuation of membership discussions. We are engaging in these in an open-ended manner … In recent times, negotiations stalled somewhat and I am in favour of opening a new chapter in order to move forward."

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Turkey began EU entry talks in 2005.

But the process stopped in 2010, after France and Cyprus - which is locked in a 40-year-old frozen conflict over the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island - vetoed 11 out of the 35 so-called negotiating chapters.

The past few years have seen the European Commission accuse Turkey of trampling on human rights and Germany speak of a "privileged partnership" instead of EU accession.

They have also seen Turkish politicians accuse the EU of Islamophobia and threaten to join Asian clubs, such as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, instead.

The debate has seen Turkish support for EU entry fall from over 70 percent to around 30 percent.

But Merkel's remarks come in an improving climate in relations.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius earlier this month said he is ready to unblock talks on the regional aid chapter.

Cyprus on Sunday also elected a new President, Nicos Anastasiades, who, back in 2004, showed willingness to come to terms with Turkey by backing a UN peace plan.

Meanwhile, Germany's EU commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, caused a stir last week by telling a think-tank in Berlin the EU will one day "crawl to Ankara on its knees to beg the Turks" to join.

His sentiment was shared by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, using more diplomatic words.

"If we aren't careful, the day will come when Europe's interest in Turkey is greater than Turkey's interest in Europe," he said in Germany's Passauer Neue Nachrichten newspaper on Saturday.

Merkel began her trip on Sunday by visiting German soldiers at a Nato anti-missile defence base in Kahramanmaras, 100km from the Turkish-Syrian border.

She is due to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

The Nato unit went to Turkey after Syrian shells hit Turkish villages in a region which has become a de facto base for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

EU relations aside, Merkel on Sunday told Turkey that, as a Nato ally, "it is important to show people living on the Turkish side that we are ready to protect them and to give a clear signal to those who try to export the Syrian conflict to Nato territory that we won't let that happen."

She noted some people feel "bewildered" that Nato has not intervened inside Syria.

But she said that even small-scale intervention, such as giving weapons to the FSA, could "intensify ... bloodshed."

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