Turkey’s EU membership talks move forward

Despite ongoing tensions with France, the EU has decided to continue accession talks and opened two further negotiation chapters with Turkey on Wednesday (19 December).

The Portuguese Presidency opened the chapters related to trans-European networks (TEN) and consumer and health protection at an accession conference in Brussels.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was pleased with the outcome and stressed that the negotiations were progressing as normal. As a further sign of the Commission’s commitment to Turkey’s accession, Commission President José Manuel Barroso is to visit the country early next year.

But the atmosphere was still tense in Brussels after EU foreign ministers adopted a text last week, at the request of France, referring to an “intergovernmental conference” to be held with Turkey instead of the usual “accession conference”, causing serious “discontent” in Ankara (EURACTIV 11/12/07).

Turkish Foreign Minister and Chief Negotiator for EU membership, Ali Babacan, made clear on 19 December that he saw the conference as an “accession conference”. He also reiterated that the shared objective was accession and appealed to EU member states “to stand firm against efforts to change this objective”.

Meanwhile, a Eurobarometer poll by TNS revealed that Turkish support of EU membership is continuing to decline. The poll, published on 18 December, shows a dramatic drop in support for EU membership, with only 53% of Turks believing the country would benefit from joining the EU, compared to 62% last spring.

Referring indirectly to French President Sarkozy’s outspoken opposition to Turkey’s EU membership, Babacan claimed that the public opinion backlash resulted from “certain negative statements” and “perceptions”, which led the Turkish people to think that they are “not wanted” in the EU.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said that the EU was “concerned” with this development, saying: “There is a need at strategic and political level to keep the process going and create a new atmosphere.”

Turkey hopes to open another two to three chapters during the first half of 2008 under the Slovenian Presidency. Following recent disputes, the French Presidency, which will take over in the second half of 2008, is likely to be a more difficult partner in the accession talks.

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