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May 18, 2012

Turkey Seeks to Revive Its EU Bid

by Dorian Jones

ISTANBUL - Turkey is showing renewed interest in reviving its stalled bid to join the European Union now that Nicolas Sarkozy, one of its key opponents, is no longer the president of France. The 27-nation bloc also seems keen to put life back into Ankara's membership aspirations.

The election of French President Francois Hollande has been welcomed in Ankara. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said there already is a positive atmosphere.

"Well, we hope and wish that relations could improve with the new French government. The president of Turkey and the prime minister of Turkey have sent messages of congratulations. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called President Hollande to congratulate him personally, and that was a positive meeting," said Unal.


Snags on path to EU membership

Turkey began its negotiations for EU membership in 2005, but made little progress because of a dispute with EU member Cyprus and opposition from former French president Sarkozy. Sarkozy argued that the predominantly Muslim country is not a part of Europe and wanted Turkey to accept a special partnership with the EU instead of full membership. Turkey rejected the offer.

Also causing the delay is the opening of so-called chapters with which every EU candidate must comply. These relate to everything from the environment and human rights to matching EU standards.

Since talks began, Turkey has addressed just 13 out of 35 chapters, or categories, that all EU candidate countries must line up prior to membership. No chapters have been opened for two years. Eighteen have been frozen - eight by the EU - because of Turkey's refusal to allow Cypriot ships to use Turkish ports. France has been using its veto on a further five chapters.

Renewed effort applied

International relations expert Soli Ozel of the Turkish newspaper Haberturk said Ankara will be looking to France's new president to move the EU process along.

"I think basically to lift the blockage on the five articles [chapters], which he might do after the parliamentary elections are over, depending on the result that he gets. If France unblocks five articles, it at least opens up the system," said Ozel. "And I really don't think Hollande will go out of his way in order to humiliate the Turks. And I think Turkey has also recognized that it really can't afford basically to be cross with every other country whose behavior it does not like."


Supporters of Turkey's bid have been working hard to reinvigorate the process.

Turkey and the EU are to open talks aimed at bringing Turkey's membership bid back on track, and have launched an initiative to do so called "Positive Agenda."

"The so-called "Positive Agenda" on eight separate areas ranging from issues like energy and social policy, where the talks may not be open officially, but we are going to have European officials sitting down with Turkish officials doing the work," said Richard Howitt, a member of the European parliament's committee on Turkey, who has been helping the effort.


Global incentives improve

The global economy also may be providing a powerful stimulus to resuscitating Ankara's bid.

Diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet said both sides have powerful economic incentives to improve relations.

"The fact [is] that Turkey is [a] growing market and has new investment potential. So the reason for cooperating with Turkey is increasing - not necessarily with a view to achieving membership anytime soon, but keeping a positive process going."


Observers warn there still are many obstacles to Ankara's bid. But the climate appears to be more favorable. Turkish officials say President Abdullah Gul is expected to hold talks with Hollande during a NATO summit in Chicago, which begins on Sunday.