Turkey still attracted to the EU, but not the euro
Turkey is committed to joining the European Union despite mounting frustration over decades of talks on the issue, but has little appetite for adopting the euro currency, a senior Turkish official said yesterday (13 February).
In a speech in London, Turkey's chief negotiator on EU accession Egemen Bağış said it was time the EU made up its mind on whether Turkey can join the 27-member bloc, and said it should be allowed in even if some countries object.
Talks on Turkish integration into Europe originally began in 1963, but the intractable dispute over the divided island of Cyprus - an EU member that Turkey does not recognize - have blocked talks on several policy issues candidate states must conclude before entry.
"We want to be in the EU, but the EU has to make a decision. The decision to start the negotiation process with Turkey was a unanimous decision, and only a unanimous decision can put an end to this process," said Bağış, who is EU affairs minister and senior member of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party.
"If there's one principle of the EU I would like to criticize it's the unanimity principle ... One single member country, the Greek Cypriots, can block the opening of the energy chapter," he said, accusing Cyprus of holding the EU "hostage".
The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the delay was "unforgivable", warning that the EU would lose Turkey, a mostly Muslim and largely conservative country, if it was not granted membership by 2023.
Enthusiasm among the Turkish public for EU membership is waning given the bloc's economic woes, particularly the sovereign debt crisis hitting some members of the currency union, but Bağış was confident any referendum would pass.
"If there was a vote today I could easily get a yes vote ... on membership of the EU, but I'm not so sure about joining the euro zone," Bağış said.
That could pose problems for accession given that joining the eurozone is a condition for entry.
However, Bağış said economic circumstances and opposition to the euro and could change by the time accession is agreed.
Formal talks to join the EU have stalled since they were launched in 2005, and Turkey has completed only one of the 35 chapters need for entry (see background).
On 12 February France said it was ready to unblock membership talks on one of the chapters, in contrast to its position under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said Turkey did not form part of Europe.
Bağış said France's change of heart was "better late than never", and lambasted "narrow minded" politicians who have objected to accession, citing discrimination and Islamophobia.
Turkey's relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) date back to 1959. It gained candidate status in 1999.
The EU opened accession talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks are holding up Ankara's progress, in particular concerning Turkey's relations with Cyprus, human and minority rights and freedom of expression.
Out of 35 negotiation chapters, so far only one chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Thirteen chapters are open, but the EU has suspended the opening of eight chapters over Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to products coming from the Republic of Cyprus.
The opening of another 11 chapters has been blocked by the France and the Republic of Cyprus, amounting to 19 blocked chapters in total.
In 2010, the EU, in a gesture of good faith towards Turkey, opened another chapter in the accession process, increasing the total number of opened chapters to 13. The chapter covers sectors related to food safety and veterinary standards.
Institut du Bosphore has welcomed the efforts of the French and Turkish ministers for foreign affairs to strengthen their bilateral relations, and rejoiced, the willingness of France to open talks on a new chapter in negotiations Turkey's accession to the European Union: "Indeed, France has agreed yesterday to lift its veto on the discussion of Chapter 22 on regional policy. This is a constructive step that we hope is a sign of a new dynamic that will actually help Turkey, and it marks the end of all political stalemate in the relations with the EU Europe."