BRUSSELS, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of the European Union (EU) urged Turkey to better observe the EU political criteria in order to join the bloc during talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
The first visit of Erdogan in five years to the EU headquarters came amid graft scandal of his cabinet, the EU's doubt of the current state of democracy of the country and the uncertain prospect of the country's EU membership.
In a joint press conference by Erdogan, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the President of the European Commission Jose Manul Barroso, the EU leaders urged him to accept the EU rule of law and the political criteria, including the judiciary independence.
Van Rompuy told reporters that he discussed with the prime minister current developments in Turkey since 17 December, when three Ministers of the Turkey government resigned for taking bribes, which triggered wide protests.
He said that Turkey as a candidate country, should commit itself to respect the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law and separation of powers.
"It is important not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner and I welcome the further dialogue on this between Turkey and the European Union," said Van Rompuy.
"I think these are fundamental principles of democracy and they are, in the first place, in Turkey's very own national political and economic interest," said Barroso, "But also they are a central and vital element of the Copenhagen criteria for the EU accession negotiations."
Inspite of the criticism, Erdogan insisted that both his country and the EU were satisfied with Turkey's EU accession process. "Turkey will not be a burden of the EU, but an engine," he said.
Turkey and the EU had dynamic trade links, more than 75 percent of the investment in Turkey comes from the European Union. Both Van Rompuy and Barroso describe Turkey as a key foreign policy and security ally to the EU.
The two sides also discussed the Syrian conflict. Erdogan told reporters that it cost Turkey around 2 billion U.S. dollars in helping about 700,000 refugees from Syria, but only got 130 million U.S. dollars from the international community. He called for awareness on the "burden" of his country.
Turkey started accession talks with the EU in 2005, but the process has been slowed down by its dispute with Cyprus as well as strong resistance from a few member states including Germany and France, and it resumed the negotiation on Oct. 22 last year.