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EU keeps membership bid on track but delays talks amid protests row.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- The EU agreed on Tuesday to keep accession talks with Turkey on track but it did so by approving a compromise formula that underlined the 27-nation bloc's discontent with the way Ankara handled recent anti-government protests.

The EU General Affairs Council (GAC), bringing together ministers from member states, agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on one of the 35 negotiating chapters but delayed an inter-governmental conference that marks the actual start of the talks by at least four months. The conference, which had been planned for Wednesday, will now take place at a date that will be set after the EU Commission releases an annual progress report on Turkey's membership efforts in mid-October.

Turkey welcomed the decision reached by EU member states, confirming that a text Turkey and Germany agreed on late on Monday clearly said Chapter 22 has been opened for accession talks. In what was the first official statement from Turkey on the EU move, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoy-lu hailed the efforts of EU countries to open talks with Turkey which will bring a fresh boost to the stalled negotiations as a result.

"The Council agrees to open Chapter 22 and underscores that the Inter-Governmental Conference [IGC] with Turkey will take place after the presentation of the Commission's annual progress report and following a discussion of the GAC which will confirm the common position of the Council for the opening of Chapter 22 and determine the date for the accession conference," the EU ministers said in their official statement announcing their decision.

Playing down the bloc's delay in officially launching the talks, Davutoy-lu said what is significant is that the EU made a decision to open accession talks on Chapter 22. "A hurdle standing in the way of relations between the EU and Turkey has been overcome," he added.

"This text clearly notes that [the bloc] has decided to open the chapter. Other technical and procedural meetings will be held at a date that suits both sides and especially at a date parallel with the [EU] progress report [according to the text]. The important thing is that such a decision is made and it was confirmed that the chapter is opened in an irrevocable decision," Davutoy-lu told reporters following a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.

Davutoy-lu also mentioned talks he held with European officials prior to the announcement of the EU decision. The Turkish foreign minister said he had spoken with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, four times since Monday, exchanging their views on a trajectory for accession talks over the phone. He also talked to his Swedish and Dutch counterparts, Carl Bildt and Frans Timmermans, as well as the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan FE-le on Monday on the issue.

The Turkish foreign minister also said they expected accession talks for the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 in the near future. "We have also completed working on [the two chapters]. The opening of Chapters 23 and 24 is particularly important in the context of human rights and freedoms," said Davutoy-lu.

In comments on the EU decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an said the bloc's decision was as expected and Turkey has no problem with the result.

Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bay-yE- also commented on the development, saying the EU decision to open accession talks showed once more the importance of Turkey for the 27-nation bloc.

Noting the timing of the start of accession talks as significant, Bay-yE- said that Chapter 22, which regulates regional policies, aims to decrease the "developmental gap" and income disparity between different regions of Turkey. The EU affairs minister added that the decision to open the regional policy chapter can also be evaluated as contributing to the settlement process launched by the government in a bid to resolve the country's long-standing terrorism problem.

Both Bay-yE- and Davutoy-lu expressed their gratitude to German Foreign Minister Westerwelle for working closely with Turkey during the last few days.

The recent tension between Turkey and Germany escalated and de-escalated in the last few weeks as a result of a disagreement over the ongoing protests in Turkey. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she found the police response to demonstrators "appalling," Bay-yE- accused Merkel of using Turkey's internal issues for "election material" for the upcoming vote in September. The diplomatic row resulted in Germany summoning the Turkish ambassador to Berlin to convey its complaints over statements made by Turkish politicians.

Observers note that the delay in the launching of official accession talks could be helpful to Merkel because it would push back the talks until after the German elections. Merkel's conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership and strengthened their stance in their election manifesto on Monday. The conservatives argued that Turkey has not fulfilled the conditions for EU accession.

During last week's EU meeting on Turkey's accession bid, Germany and the Netherlands opposed the opening of a new chapter, but later had a change of heart.

In comments on Turkey's possible membership on Monday, Merkel did not address the compromise proposal but said Turkey must make progress on its relations with EU member Cyprus to give impetus to its membership ambitions. Although Merkel softened her tone over her criticism of Turkey she told an audience at the Turkish-German Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, "We cannot ignore what is happening."

"On the one hand we cannot pretend as if these talks here were happening without any context, as if the past days hadn't existed. On the other hand we also have to see that our joint, general, strategic and long-term interests are upheld," Westerwelle also said in similar remarks on Monday.

Joining statements made by German officials, Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said: "We have to notice at the moment that there has to be some movement from Turkey before starting with negotiations in a new chapter."

"We are waiting for signals from Ankara that they are going to give people in Turkey really their rights," the Austrian minister added.

Chair of the EU's General Affairs Council and Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore welcome the recent development for Turkey's accession to the bloc, while he also expressed their disturbance by the country's handling of the protests.

"I believe that the EU accession process is most effective tool we have in influencing the reform agenda in Turkey. EU-inspired reforms have facilitated the increasing space for peaceful protest and dissenting voices. ...The protests have also shown that Turkey needs further reform. Moving ahead with the EU accession process by opening Chapter 22 will, I believe, allow the EU to continue contributing to shaping the direction of future reform in Turkey," he said in the statement.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement FE-le expressed his content with the EU decision on Tuesday over his Twitter account.

"Welcome agreement to open chapter 22 and on common position," FE-le wrote on Twitter and added "IGC to be scheduled after Progress Report with the confirmation of common position at same time."

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Jun 25, 2013
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