The European Union is to reopen membership talks with Turkey, more than three years after freezing negotiations, in an attempt to boost the prospects for democratic reforms amid fears that the country is taking an authoritarian lurch under its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
EU foreign ministers will formally decide on Tuesday to resume negotiations in two weeks’ time, senior diplomats said, following a U-turn by Germany, which, until last month’s election, favoured shelving the talks.
Germany is generally opposed to Turkey joining the EU, along with France and several others. The last obstacle to re-engaging with Turkey was overcome on Monday at the meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg when the Dutch shifted position.
Frans Timmermann, the Dutch foreign minister, announced the Dutch would not veto reopening talks.
Relations between the EU and Turkey have sunk to new lows in recent months, with aides to Erdogan arguing that Europe was in terminal decline and falling apart, while Turkey was on the rise as a key regional and economic power.
Ankara’s negotiators have taken to declaring that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. The membership bid has been paralysed for more than three years because of vetoes from Cyprus over the refusal of Ankara to open its ports to Greek Cypriot imports.
But there is also broader and more fundamental resistance in Europe. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy blocked talks over Turkey’s EU membership, while the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, argues that Turkey should settle for a special deal with the EU falling short of membership.
Erdogan’s brutal crackdown in May and June on a wave of national street protests brought widespread international condemnation and Merkel successfully argued that Turkey should not be rewarded with a resumption of negotiations.
Others contend that the EU should exploit the negotiating leverage to encourage policy shifts in Turkey, calling for talks about judicial reform to boost the prospects for better human rights and media freedom.
The European commission supported a broader mandate for negotiations last week, but the ministers decided only to open talks on regional development and local democracy, areas designed to strengthen the fragile “peace process” in Turkey aimed at ending the 30-year-old Kurdish insurgency. A key demand of the Kurds is for more decentralised government and greater local autonomy.
By delaying talks in June, said Cengiz Aktar, professor for EU relations at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, “the EU and Germany wanted to give Turkey a message because of the the Gezi Park riots” in May and June.
But Turkish and EU experts agreed that the ministers should have taken a bolder step.
The talks on fundamental rights and the judiciary had to be opened “as soon as possible to make it clear that if Turkey is moving towards Europe, it has to undertake reforms in these areas so that human rights are observed”, said Michael Spindelegger, the Austrian foreign minister.
Erdogan unveiled what was billed as a major package of reforms last month. This is said to have helped to persuade Merkel to unfreeze the negotiations.
“The bigger step would be opening of negotiations on the other chapters [dealing with the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security]. This step by Germany might have a positive impact on these issues, but it will depend on Turkey, and the changes in the judiciary system, if anything is to actually happen,” said Aktar.
source: Guardian UK