21st Sep 2023

Turkish PM to visit Brussels to resuscitate membership bid

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heading to Brussels this weekend aiming to resuscitate the country's bid for membership of the European Union.

In the European capital for three days starting on Sunday (18 January), Mr Erdogan is to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and foreign policy chief Javier Solana to discuss Turkey's accession to the bloc, along with regional issues.

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  • Ankara is keen to revive membership talks (Photo: EUobserver)

While Ankara and Brussels started accession talks in 2005, little movement has been achieved both as a result of enlargement ‘fatigue' amongst existing member states and strong resistance from Austria and France, but also slow-going reforms domestically and a growing ambivalence towards joining the EU amongst the population.

Stumbling blocks remain over changes to the constitution allowing greater freedom of expression and religious and minority language rights.

Thornier still is Turkey's continued refusal to allow Greek Cypriots entry to its harbours and airports.

Ankara however is keen to show it is serious about speeding up reforms and prove its commitment to the accession process.

Last week, the government appointed its first full-time EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, a close ally of the prime minister. Previously, negotiations had been performed by the foreign minister, Ali Babacan.

Brussels has long requested Ankara appoint a dedicated EU negotiator, arguing that the foreign minister had too many other demands on his time.

Mr Bagis will accompany the prime minister on his visit.

On Tuesday, Mr Bagis held a press conference expressing his government's confidence at reviving negotiations.

"We have a steep road in front of us but we are determined to complete negotiations in the end - no one should doubt this," he said, according to Reuters.

"Turkey will be an honourable member of the European Union and not the sick man of Europe."

Mr Bagis said that the establishment of a new Kurdish-language television channel, the creation of an EU relations ministry and its national reform programme demonstrated Turkey's commitment to meeting Brussels' demands.

He warned that Turkey must be treated no differently than past accession candidates.

"We would like to see the same determination on the side of the EU," he said. "Previous candidates had certain conditions and we are expecting the same conditions."

The trip will be the prime minister's first visit to Brussels since 2004. Mr Barroso, for his part, visited Turkey last April.

Mr Erdogan will also meet with the head of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering and speak at a pair of Brussels think-tanks.

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