EU wants to resume Turkey talks, embrace Albania

AFP , Wednesday 16 Oct 2013

Turkish minister claims EU is 'moving away from Turkey day by day' despite bloc's initiatives to resume talks on the country's EU status

The EU's executive on Wednesday urged the bloc's governments to reopen stalled membership talks with Turkey despite this year's crackdown on protesters as well as open the door to Albania.

Releasing its much-awaited yearly enlargement report, the European Commission rebuked Ankara for an "uncompromising stance in the face of dissent" and "excessive force" by police against protesters.

But it urged the 28 EU states to confirm their willingness to give new impetus to ties with Turkey by resuming the talks.

The commission also praised Turkey for key reforms over the past year, including major judicial reforms and the start of a peace process with Kurdish groups to end conflict in its south-east.

However, the Turkish minister responsible for relations with the European Union, said the bloc was "moving away from Turkey day by day", according to comments reported by the Anatolia news agency.

Egemen Bagis said his country was "ready to join" the EU but had become fatigued by drawn-out accession negotiations which began in 2005, meaning that "interest shown by the Turks for membership decreases each day".

He also criticised the Commission for publishing the report during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

The yearly Commission report tracks whether EU aspirants meet the bloc's standards on democracy and rights.

It also urged European Union governments to formally recognise Albania as a candidate for membership.

Praising Tirana for holding "smooth and orderly" elections this year and battling crime and corruption, the "Commission recommends that Albania be granted candidate status", the report said.

But it warned this was on the proviso that Albania "continues to take action in the fight against organised crime and corruption" and urged the country to make more progress on areas such as rule of law and fundamental rights.

Should the 28 EU states open the door to Albania, which initially applied in 2009, it will be among six countries recognised as candidates to join the 500-million-strong bloc, including Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Iceland.

Croatia was the latest to join, becoming the bloc's 28th member in July. Still in line are Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Macedonia is bogged down in a row over its name with Greece, Iceland this year decided to put its application on hold, and Kosovo still needs to win recognition from five EU states.

Turkey began accession talks with the EU at the same time as Croatia, as far back as 2005. But they have broken down because of its long-standing territorial dispute with Cyprus, a member of the bloc, as well as opposition from powers France and Germany.

After a three-year freeze, the bloc in June finally agreed to reopen the dialogue but delayed the actual resumption for several months because of Ankara's tough crackdown in May and June against anti-government protests.

Wednesday's report is expected to be put before a European Affairs ministers meeting October 22 who will confirm or reject the June decision to open talks on Chapter 22.

The chapter is among 35 sets of EU rules and regulations that candidate states must satisfy before winning entry to the club.

A delay in opening the chapter would raise doubts about whether the predominantly Muslim country of 76 million people will ever be admitted to the European club.

The EU also hopes to see Turkey sign a stalled deal to readmit illegal migrants who slip across its border into Europe and to start talks on easing visa requirements for Turks.

Turkey so far has only agreed with the EU on one of the 35 chapters, and Brussels in 2006 froze negotiations on eight of them following Ankara's failure to open its ports to shipping from Cyprus, divided since 1974.

Hopes of fresh talks to reunify divided Cyprus resurfaced however this month while Turkey's strategic importance as the Syria conflict unfolds on its border has underlined moves in the West to strengthen the partnership.

Short link: