Turkey Moves Closer to EU Membership Talks

February 13, 2013Turkeyby EW News Desk Team

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France on Tuesday said it was ready to resume EU accession talks with Turkey, marking a warming of ties after a long period of bilateral tension under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Speaking at the sidelines of a conference on Libya on Tuesday, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that Paris is ready to unblock European Union membership talks on the subject of regional policy.

"I confirmed to him that we were ready ... to begin discussions on chapter 22," Fabius told a news conference. Turkey has completed just one of 35 policy "chapters" every candidate must conclude to join the EU. All but 13 of those chapters are blocked by France, Cyprus and the European Commission.

Turkey launched a formal EU accession bid in 2005, four decades after the first talks but the process has stalled due to opposition from core EU members France and Germany as well as an intractable dispute over Cyprus, the divided island state that Turkey does not recognise. 

The talks have also been blocked by the European Commission, which says that Turkey does not yet meet the required standards on human rights, freedom of speech and religion. 

“This is certainly a change of attitude from the former government,” said one official in Paris, although he added it was “too early” to tell whether France would now swing fully behind Turkish EU membership - a sharp contrast to Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe. 

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Another French diplomatic described it as “a political signal, a first step” to pave the way for French President Francois Hollande to visit Turkey, although no date has been set. 

Despite the slow progress, the eurozone crisis and waning domestic support, Turkey has continued to push for full membership in the EU and has said it wants to join before 2023, the centenary of its founding as a republic.

Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said his country's half-century wait join the EU was "unforgivable" and it should be admitted without delay. 

Erdogan has previously warned that the EU could “at the very least” lose Turkey if the bloc continues to alienate and give it the cold shoulder and recently raised the possibility of deepening ties with the Russian-Chinese backed Shanghai Co-operation Organisation instead.

At the end of last year, Ankara accused the EU of “biased and unwarranted bigoted attitudes” in an official report on its membership application process. 

In a statement accompanying the official 270-page report, Turkey’s EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis said: 

Today there is no government in Europe which is more reformist than our government. While EU countries are struggling in crisis, our country is experiencing the most democratic, prosperous, modern and transparent period in its history. The 'sick man' of yesterday has got up and summoned the strength to prescribe medication for today's Europe ... and to share the EU's burden rather than being a burden to it.
 

In the decade ending 2012, Turkey recorded the highest-growth rate among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development economies and is expected to grow 4 percent or more in 2013. 

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