Tuesday

23rd Jul 2019

EU revives Turkey membership bid, launches Serbia talks

  • Volkan Bozkir, minister for EU affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, minister for foreign affairs in the company of Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg Minister for Foreign and European Affairs (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The European Union revived Turkey’s membership bid and launched accession talks with Serbia on Monday (14 December), in a sign that the migration crisis has prompted the bloc to seek closer relations with its neighbours despite a pause on accepting new members.

Two weeks after Turkey and the EU signed a deal on working together to stem the flow of migrants and refugees pouring into Europe and to revive membership talks, the bloc opened chapter 17 of the EU acquis on European rules of finance, banking and investment.

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Turkey's membership talks started in 2005. Since then the EU has opened 15 chapters out of a total of 35 required to join, with only one being provisionally closed in a decade.

Concerns over human rights and press freedom issues in Turkey brought the accession process to a near-complete halt.

But Europe’s need for help slowing down the wave of people seeking refuge in the EU revived the appetite for accession talks with Muslim-majority Turkey.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said opening the first new section for two years is “quite symbolic.”

“We hope other chapters will be opened soon and the negotiation process returns to its natural course. We shouldn't wait another two years to open another chapter,” Cavusoglu told press on Monday.

Turkey will not become an EU member any time soon, and its full membership still faces resistance from France, Germany, and, especially, divided Cyprus, where Turkey controls the north.

The EU also promised €3 billion for the more than 2 million refugees living in Turkey and to end the visa requirement for Turkish visitors to the passport-free Schengen zone.

Cavusoglu said Turkey was making progress on its end of the deal to make it easier for refugees to settle in Turkey.

“We are preparing a draft law to issue working permits for Syrians living in Turkey,” he said, adding that they are building new school classrooms and easing access to healthcare.

Serbia welcom

The EU also launched accession talks with another country on the migration route into Europe - Serbia.

“This is an important day for us,” Serbian prime minister Alexander Vucic said.

“We don't have to dream of Europe from now on. We will work very hard on this,” he added.

The bloc opened two chapters in membership talks: chapter 35 on Belgrade's normalisation of relations with its breakaway territory of Kosovo, and chapter 32 on financial control.

Serbia does not recognise the sovereignty of its former southern province Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, after a bloody war in 1998 and 199.

The EU has steered talks on improving relations between Belgrade and Pristina, but implementation of new accords is limited so far.

Enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina must continue and that “much water will have flowed down the Danube” before the two sides fully make peace.

Another concern for the EU is Serbia’s close relationship with Moscow.

Only a year ago EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU needed a pause in admitting new members, and will not accept new countries for five years.

But the EU’s accession policy - aiming to align neighbouring countries with the world’s largest trading bloc and political union - is proving useful amid the refugee crisis and a more assertive Russian foreign policy.

“The refugee crisis and terrorism shows us that we are on the same continent, we are facing the same challenges and the more we develop common policies, the better off we will be,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told press on Monday.

EU hopes €3bn will see Turkey halt migrants

EU leaders and Turkey’s PM will, on Sunday, finalise a €3 billion deal to stop migrants coming, in talks held in the shadow of the Turkey-Russia confrontation.

EU enlargement heading into chilly period

The EU commission is not recommending any fresh steps on Western Balkan enlargement in the next 12 months, with one official saying the policy is in "de facto freeze".

Montenegro opens two EU accession chapters

The Western Balkan state is the third country in a week to see its membership talks move on, in a drive to boost enlargement policy in face of the migration crisis.

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