Austrian foreign minister moves away from Ankara towards Moscow

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz [European Council]

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is set to continue his pursuit of a freeze in the EU’s accession process with Turkey. He is also eager to act as a bridge between the West and Russia. EURACTIV Germany reports.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is likely to come to blows with the young Austrian, as the EU executive’s chief does not want to break off membership negotiations with Ankara.

The Luxembourger told German weekly Welt am Sonntag that he is critical of the European Parliament’s position and insisted that the accession process should not be frozen.

Juncker added that he does not want to disappoint Turks that hope for the country to be opened up and adapt to EU norms. The Commission boss warned that the EU should be working to “bring Turkey closer”, not pushing it away.

Turkey's EU membership bid set to enter ice age

The EU’s accession talks with Turkey are, in practice, not going anywhere. Now, the Netherlands wants clarity on how the negotiations will progress in the future, if at all. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Kurz wants to amend a previously prepared Foreign Council resolution, which in addition to continuing with the Turkey negotiations, also recommends pushing forward with the Western Balkan states’ membership bids.

That makes things tricky, because Austria is a big proponent of Balkan enlargement. As a result, Kurz is working with his Bulgarian and Dutch counterparts to amend the wording in the Turkey passage, so that the necessary unanimous decision on the issue can be made.

Central to his argument is the idea that the EU “cannot go on as if nothing has happened” in regard to the arrests, restrictions on basic freedoms and repression of media that has been seen in Turkey, especially after the failed July coup attempt. Kurz warned that it is about the EU’s “credibility” and not having “double standards”.

Balkan candidates hope to reinvigorate EU bids with new strategy

Enlargement has fallen off the EU’s list of priorities and the Union is more than likely to shrink before it grows again. But the Western Balkans are still aspiring EU members and a new strategy has been developed that hopes to put them back on Brussels’ immediate agenda.

Although the Austrian minister is walking a hardline in terms of Turkey, he is keen to broker a new, better relationship with Moscow. At the end of the 23rd OSCE conference in Hamburg, which Kurz will be chairing for the coming year, he revealed that one of his priorities will be to seek better ties between the West and Russia.

Although Russia has traversed a “red line” with its annexation of Crimea in Eastern Ukraine, Kurz said that a dialogue still needs to be found. In stark contrast to his view on Ankara, Kurz said that “if we want security, we need to act as a bridge between East and West”.

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