EU delays latest round of Turkish entry talks

Union rebukes Ankara for political crackdown

A Turkish policeman stands near an advertisement poster on a bus at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

A Turkish policeman stands near an advertisement poster on a bus at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

Tue, Jun 25, 2013, 11:45

The Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union has postponed a meeting that was due to take place tomorrow with Turkey until the autumn, pushing back the start of EU accession talks by several months.

It comes on the back of resistance by Germany to proceed with tomorrow’s meeting, amid diplomatic tensions between Berlin and Ankara, after Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticised Turkey’s handling of the recent anti-government protests.

The EU had planned to open a new chapter, or policy area, in talks with Turkey tomorrow, reviving the Turkish membership bid that has been virtually frozen for three years.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who chaired a meeting of European and foreign ministers today in Luxembourg, confirmed that the meeting will now take place later in the year, although member states will open a new chapter in Turkey’s accession talks.

The announcement was largely seen as a compromise between member states amid continuing German resistance to the move. The meeting is now likely to take place after German elections in September.

In a statement, the Tánaiste said he was delighted to announce that the General Affairs Council had agreed to open a new chapter in accession negotiations with Turkey. “While we have been disturbed by the reaction to the recent peaceful protests in Turkey, I believe that the EU accession process is most effective tool we have in influencing the reform agenda in Turkey.”

Accessions negotiations between Turkey and the EU have been at a virtual standstill for close to three years, but there was hope that an EU-Turkey intergovernmental conference scheduled by the Irish presidency of the Council of the European Union for tomorrow could re-open negotiations.

Foreign and European affairs ministers are also due to discuss Serbia and Kosovo’s accession to the European Union at the meeting in Luxembourg, under the chairmanship of Mr Gilmore.

Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton will represent Ireland at the talks.

Serbia hopes to be given an official date for the start of EU accession talks, while Kosovo may be offered a stabilisation and association agreement, following a historic accord signed between the two blocs in April.

While Kosovo declared its status as an independent country in 2008, Serbia does not recognise its status as an independent state.

The European Union is demanding that Serbia normalise relations with its neighbours before joining the EU. Among the issues of contention is control over the Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

Speaking after a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg yesterday, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that progress had been made towards “visible and sustainable normalisation relations” between the two neighbours, highlighting the closure of some Serb-controlled police stations. “When I look back at where we began with the dialogue, I think the progress has been astonishing in many ways. There is much more to do, but I do think they have made significant process.”

Delays in Turkey’s EU entry discussions fan doubts about whether Turkey, a largely Muslim country of 76 million people, will ever be admitted to the European club.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin had been in contact with Ankara to find an acceptable solution. “Among all the understandable reactions (to the protests), we feel we cannot ignore that we have long-term strategic interests. We have to weigh that,” he told reporters.

Turkey had promised a “strong reaction” to any EU decision to cancel the opening of the new chapter, but it toned down its criticism today.

“What is important is the confirmation of the opening of the chapter with an irrevocable decision,” foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara. “An obstacle in Turkey’s relations with the EU has been overcome.”

The delay is helpful to Dr Merkel because it pushes back the talks until after the elections in Germany in September. Dr Merkel’s conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership.

Protests swept Turkish cities after police used teargas and water cannon to disperse a demonstration against redevelopment of an Istanbul square. Two weeks of clashes with police have left four people dead, including a policeman, and about 7,500 injured.

Additional reporting: Reuters

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