Exasperated Turkey slammed its fist on the table this weekend, saying Europe was dragging its feet on EU entry talks, while the 27-nation bloc sought to boost ties with a nation whose worldwide weight is on the rise.
After sitting down for talks on Saturday with the 27-nation bloc’s foreign affairs chiefs, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “I expressed our dissatisfaction with the speed of the negotiations, I expressed it clearly.”
His expression of irritation, moreover, came on the eve of a referendum on highly divisive constitutional changes that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said would strengthen Turkey’s bid for admission into the EU.
However, instead of jump-starting the sluggish entry talks that began in 2005, his counterparts offered to develop a “strategic dialogue” on key world issues that would be independent of talks on joining the bloc.
“Turkey will never accept any replacement or any alternative to the accession process,” Davutoglu said after meeting his EU counterparts.
The European offer, however, underlines Ankara’s growing role on the world scene as it helps mediate such thorny issues as the row over Iran’s nuclear program or peace in the Middle East.
“Turkey today has more influence in the world than all the EU member states on an individual basis,” Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said.
And some fear the serious slowdown in its rapprochement with Europe might cause it to drift east, to the Middle East and Asia.
“It is in the interest of us Europeans that Turkey remain oriented towards the West and that there be no change of course,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
However, his Turkish counterpart told journalists that “without a momentum in negotiations, it’s difficult to develop such a strategic vision.”
That was why at the meeting “I said this speed is not satisfactory at all.”
“There should be a new approach, meaning to open more chapters, not to have any linkage or political barriers which are not related to the negotiation process, including the Cyprus question or others,” he said.
Since the beginning of entry talks in 2005, movement has been sluggish because of the deadlock over Cyprus, the slow pace of reforms in Turkey and, more fundamentally, because France and Germany are wary of seeing the Muslim-majority nation of 75 million join the bloc.
Of the 35 chapters conditioning entry, 18 currently are blocked by the EU, Cyprus and France.
Only three chapters could potentially be opened, failing which the process faces deadlock, a situation that could trigger a real crisis between Turkey and the EU.
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