The launch of a new "chapter" of negotiations with the EU membership candidate comes after a three-year hiatus in Turkey's bid during which no new areas of negotiations were opened.
EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said the 28-member bloc's accession talks with Turkey should be speeded up to help Ankara implement democratic reforms. "Recent developments in Turkey underline the importance of EU engagement and of the EU remaining the benchmark for reform in Turkey."
Earlier this month, the European Commission praised recent judicial reforms in Turkey and the government's announcement last month of a package of laws designed to salvage a peace process with Kurdish insurgents.
It accused Turkish police, however, of using excessive force to quell protests earlier this year, urging the government to strengthen oversight of the police and to press ahead with investigations into their conduct. Six people died and more than 8,000 were hurt in two weeks of clashes in June.
Turkey began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying, but a series of political obstacles, notably over Cyprus and resistance to Turkish membership in Germany and France, have slowed progress.
The newly opened area - one of more than 30 that need to be discussed before Turkey can join - covers issues dealing with how a country spends EU aid targeted for poor regions.