After small step towards EU, Turkey has long way to go 2009-07-02 01:05:28   Print

    by Xinhua writers Wang Xiuqiong and Zheng Jinfa

    ANKARA, July 1 (Xinhua) -- With a new area of negotiations for accession to the European Union (EU) opened Tuesday, Turkey made a small step forward in a decade-old membership bid but still faces a long way to go.

    Turkey and the EU on Tuesday held an ministerial level accession conference in Brussels and agreed to open negotiations on tax policy, the 11th out of 35 policy areas, or chapters, Turkey needs to negotiate with the EU before its entry.

    Turkey has only provisionally completed talks on just one policy area. Eight chapters have been frozen by the EU since 2006 as Turkey refuses to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels and aircrafts.

    France is blocking another five chapters directly linked to EU membership.

    Egemen Bagis, Turkey's chief negotiator for accession talks with the EU, demanded Tuesday the removal of political obstacles in the talks.

    He called for the opening of more chapters, including environment, competition policy, social policy, employment and energy, in the second half of 2009, when Sweden takes over the rotating EU presidency.

    Bagis also asked for fairness in the negotiation process, accusing the EU member state Cyprus of blocking the technically ready chapters, including the energy area.

    The Cyprus problem is one of the main obstacles on Turkey's road to the EU.

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish military intervened and occupied the Mediterranean island's north area following a coup by a group of Greek officers.

    Turkish Cypriot authorities in 1983 declared the establishment of the breakaway "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", which is recognized only by Turkey.

    The internationally recognized Cyprus government has veto power over new EU entrants, including Turkey.

    Many analysts believed that 2009 might be the last chance for years that the two communities, with a pro-settlement leader on each side for the first time, could possibly find a way out of the stalemate.

    The rival Cypriot leaders started peace talks in September 2008but the process has been moving slowly due to disagreements on many key issues, including power-sharing and the rearrangement of property.

    A predominantly Muslim country, Turkey has met oppositions from EU member countries who lost their interests in further enlargement.

    France and Germany, for example, have said that they favor a more informal partnership with Turkey instead of full membership.

    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday in a national address on TV that Turkey "can not accept any other goal but full membership at any stage of negotiations with the EU" and is determined to go after changes not only in economy but also in other fields.

    The 27-member bloc wants Turkey to reform its constitution, fight corruption, improve free speech, grant more rights to minorities and curb the power of the army.

    The Turkish parliament recently passed an amendment allowing the trial of military personnel in civilian courts for forming gangs, acts of terror and crimes against the constitution, which also brings an end to the trial of civilians in military courts.

    Krisztina Nagy, spokesperson for EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, voiced support for the amendment, saying aligning civilian control of the military with EU practices is one of the top priorities in Turkey's accession process, the Turkish newspaper Zaman (Time) reported.

    The amendment will come into effect after being approved by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, while the main opposition Republican People's Party has expressed their desire to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

    It remains to be seen whether Turkey can overcome woes looming ahead as other factors offer hopes to the aspiring country.

    Sweden, who took over the six-month rotating EU presidency from the Czech Republic on Wednesday, will continue to support Turkey until the day it becomes a full member of the European Union, the country's ambassador in Ankara Christer Asp told the semi-official Anatolia news agency.

    Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said Tuesday the authorities were intensifying efforts to have more chapters opened during Sweden's presidency term and would make important progress by the end of 2009, Zaman reported.

    Meanwhile, after a decade of troubled efforts, dissatisfaction seems to be growing among the Turkish people over the EU bid.

    Recent surveys showed 49.7 percent of Turkish youth do not support EU membership, as the EU has hurt their hearts with the policies implemented during the country's long-delayed membership talks, the Anatolia news agency quoted former Turkish State Minister Kemal Dervis as telling a meeting in Paris on Tuesday.

    Turkey became an EU candidate country in December 1999 and began EU accession talks in October 2005.

Editor: Yan
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