Wednesday

23rd Oct 2019

Turkey and EU restart membership talks

  • Bagis (l) said 'this is only the beginning' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Turkey and the EU have restarted accession talks three and a half years after their last meeting and five months after Turkey's crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Istanbul.

The talks resumed in Brussels on Tuesday (5 November) with the opening of a "chapter" on regional policy.

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The Turkish negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said "it felt good." But he added: "We have a saying in Turkey: 'You can't have spring with only one flower' and this is only the beginning."

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said three more chapters - on public procurement, competition and social policy - could soon follow.

But despite the upbeat mood, the talks remain hobbled by vetoes.

Out of the 35 chapters in the EU rulebook, Cyprus, which remains locked in a frozen conflict with Turkey, is blocking the opening of six.

The European Commission is blocking eight because of Turkey's trade ban on Cyprus and France is blocking another four.

For his part, Bagis noted that French President Francois Hollande is expected to visit Turkey in the near future.

"We hope he will announce the unblocking of the remaining four chapters as well," he said.

He added the UN is working on a new Cyprus conflict resolution deal, which could be put to a vote by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots next year.

Fuele said the commission is ready to lift its eight-chapter veto if Turkey opens its airports and sea ports to Cypriot vessels.

Amid EU criticism of Turkey's crackdown on the Istanbul demonstrators and on Turkey's lack of press freedom, Fuele said he is trying to get Cyprus to lift its veto on chapters 22 and 23, which cover EU values, even if there is no UN breakthrough.

"I do hope we will be able to find a consensus ... on this issue," he said.

In terms of broader relations, the two sides indicated they are close to starting talks on EU visa-free travel.

Fuele said his fellow commissioner, home affairs chief Cecilia Malmstrom, is ready to go to Ankara "at any moment" to launch the process if Turkey agrees to sign a "readmission agreement" on taking back irregular migrants.

Meanwhile, Bagis noted that Turkish people are annoyed by EU foreign policy on Egypt and Syria.

He said Turks feel the West has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a free hand to "kill [his] own people … so long as [he] does not use chemical weapons."

He added that Turks want to know "how come [EU countries] are not raising their voices strongly when an elected President [Egypt's Mohammed Morsi] is in prison and the dictator of the last four decades [former president Hosni Mubarak] is freed by a military junta?"

"It is unfortunately creating a negative image via-a-vis the EU in Turkey," he said.

EU urges Turkey to change internet law

Turkey's crackdown on the internet raises "serious concerns" and "needs to be revised in line with European standards," the EU commission has said.

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