'The ball is in your court' on EU bid, France tells Turkey
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged Turkey on Tuesday to push ahead with reforms in order to advance its lagging accession negotiations with the European Union.
Speaking at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, Kouchner said that Turkey could open talks on three new chapters, or policy areas that a candidate country must successfully negotiate before accession.
The chapter on competition "should be opened before the end of the year" and the one on social policy and employment "next year", Kouchner told reporters in Ankara.
A third chapter on the reform of public procurement "should not be a problem," he added.
But "we have a number of reforms to be completed by your country so that these three chapters can be opened," the French minister said. "For the moment, the ball is in your court."
France, along with Germany, is among vocal opponents of Turkey's ambition to join the 27-nation bloc and argues that the mainly Muslim country of about 73 million people should settle for a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership.
When queried about how France views Turkey's EU bid, Kouchner refused to go into detail, saying: "You know the position of France".
Turkey began accession negotiations with the EU in 2005, but the process has stalled amid opposition from some member states, lack of reform in Turkey and a trade row over the divided island of Cyprus.
Eight chapters remain frozen due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Cyprus, an EU member which Ankara does not recognise owing to the island's 36-year division between its Greek and Turkish communities.
Davutoglu, for his part, said he had urged France to "liberalise" visa regimes for Turks in the footsteps of Balkan countries which are also EU candidates.
He called on the EU to "apply the Balkan procedure to Turkey, neither more nor less."
Turkey favors the repeal of entry visas to EU countries, arguing that such a move would facilitate business relationships.
Both Kouchner and Davutoglu expressed their commitment to cooperate against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has been fighting against Ankara since 1984 for self-rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.
The group, which is blacklisted by Turkey and much of the international community, enjoys support among Kurdish immigrants in Europe.
"We agree to fight together against the PKK in all areas," Davutoglu said while Kouchner underlined that cooperation against the PKK would be strong.
Asked whether French President Nicolas Sarkozy would visit Turkey later this year, Kouchner said the visit would be "early next year".
Kouchner, who arrived in Ankara late Monday, will inaugurate the new buildings of the Charles de Gaulle High School in Ankara and the French Institute of Turkey later Tuesday.
He will also meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul before leaving.
© 2010 AFP