Turkey set for fresh membership talks with EU

8th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, May 8, 2007 (AFP) - EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on Tuesday played down concerns that French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy would stop Turkey's membership bid, adding that new talks with Ankara could begin within weeks.

BRUSSELS, May 8, 2007 (AFP) - EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on Tuesday played down concerns that French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy would stop Turkey's membership bid, adding that new talks with Ankara could begin within weeks.

Sarkozy, who triumphed in France's presidential election on Sunday, is staunchly opposed to Turkey joining the 27-member bloc, arguing that most of Turkey's territory is in Asia.

However Rehn, speaking after talks with Turkey's top EU negotiator Ali Babacan, said that the European Union hoped to open talks with Ankara, before the end of June, on three of the 35 policy chapters which must be successfully negotiated prior to membership.

"I confirmed... the goal to open three chapters still under the German (EU) presidency," he told reporters. Portugal will assume the presidency from Germany on July 1.

This marks a major step for Turkey's EU bid as so far it has only opened two chapters, and successfully closed just one.

Rehn stressed that the decision in March to resume the membership talks, parts of which were frozen because of Turkey's trade dispute with Cyprus, was taken unanimously.

"If one or several members states want to change that negotiating mandate, then it is up to them to take the initiative and also take the responsibility of possible consequences," he said.

He congratulated Sarkozy on his election win and added that it was not his task to speculate on whether the election result "is good or bad".

"I trust that France will stick to its commitments undertaken in the course of the EU accession process," he added.

The EU opened in March the chapter on "enterprise and industry policy". However no more chapters can be closed until Turkey drops its long-running trade restrictions against EU member Cyprus.

"In my view the best was for the EU to work with Turkey in this sensitive and difficult time is by sticking to our commitment, by being firm and fair," said Rehn.

"Fair by keeping our word concerning the accession process, and firm by applying rigorously the criteria of accession."

European officials are closely watching political events in Turkey, amid a crisis over the retention of a secular administration in the largely Muslim nation.

Turkish lawmakers on Monday approved sweeping constitutional reforms that would see the president elected by popular vote, as they sought to resolve the crisis.

On Sunday, parliament failed for a second time to elect a president, with an opposition boycott preventing it reaching the required quorum for a vote.

The failure prompted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist who was the sole candidate, to withdraw his name.

The prospect of Gul as president had triggered mass secular protests and a tense stand-off between the Islamist-rooted government and the army, which threatened to intervene to protect secularism.

Rehn said that a decision on whether Turkey should be allowed to join the EU should only be made "closer to completion of the negotiation process, because only then can we see if Turkey is able to meet all the legal, democratic and economic criteria".

A Commission spokeswoman said the three new accession chapters concerned were on economic and monetary affairs, statistics and financial control.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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