Turkey hopeful Irish EU presidency will speed up accession bid

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 00:00

Turkey is hopeful its bid to join the European Union will accelerate during Ireland’s presidency of the EU in the first half of next year, Ankara’s chief negotiator on EU accession has said during a visit to Dublin.

Egemen Bagis said Turkey was heartened by signals from Paris that French president François Hollande, while stopping short of endorsing Ankara’s candidacy, took a more sympathetic view than his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who was strongly opposed to Turkey’s accession.

Turkey began formal accession talks in 2005 but has completed only one of the 35 policy “chapters” every candidate must conclude in order to join the EU. All but 13 are blocked by France, Cyprus and the European Commission.

Mr Bagis said he hoped France would unblock talks over its accession on at least two policy chapters in the coming months ahead of a visit by Mr Hollande to Turkey.

Given Ireland’s position of supporting Turkish accession, Mr Bagis said he believed its six-month EU presidency would mark a “historical turning point” in the process.

“Turkey doesn’t expect to become a full member of the EU during the Irish presidency but we are pragmatic and we will work very hard to achieve the goal of putting Turkish-EU relations on a much more reliable track,” he said. “We think with strong Irish support we can turn the process around.”

Despite dwindling domestic support, Turkey has continued to push for full membership of the EU, saying it wants to join before 2023, the centenary of its founding as a republic.

Mr Bagis repeated Ankara’s line that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. He compared the EU’s economic crisis with Turkey’s soaring growth rate, and said Turkey was crucial for European access to regional energy sources and lucrative markets.

Mr Bagis acknowledged that in several EU states where governments support Turkish accession, including Ireland, public sentiment did not always match the official position. He bemoaned the “prejudice” he said was at the heart of this opposition.

Image problem

He said he had detected a shift in the personal views of Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton, who had voiced strong opposition to Turkey joining the EU before she became Minister. Ms Creighton made an official visit to Turkey earlier this year.

“We have an image problem, we know that,” Mr Bagis said. “But when people visit Turkey, they see that it is different to what they expected.”

The EU has criticised Turkey for shortcomings in free speech and freedom of religion, and has raised concerns over minority rights. Mr Bagis said progress was being made in these areas. “Our reform process is going faster, and Turkey is becoming more democratic and dynamic,” he said.