Turkey again demands progress in EU visa-free travel
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Turkey's EU Minister Omer Celik take part in a press conference on September 9, 2016 in Ankara. (AFP/Adem Altan)
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Turkish Europe Minister Omer Celik sought progress Friday in his country's efforts to join the European Union, accusing some member states of "double standards," at talks in Ankara aimed at mending ties after the country's thwarted July 15 coup.
Turkish officials had initially accused their Western partners of failing to show support by visiting the country in the wake of the attempted military takeover, which led to the death of more than 260 people.
The EU was quick to condemn the failed coup, but has also warned Turkey to abide by democratic values amid a subsequent military and civil service crackdown that has involved thousands of detentions.
Issues relating to fundamental rights and the rule of law form a part of EU accession negotiations, but these two chapters - 23 and 24 out of an overall 35 - have been blocked by Cyprus due to a dispute with Ankara over the Turkish-occupied north of the island.
"Many things are being written and criticized on those matters," Celik said. "If the criticisms are really aimed at the promotion of human rights and democracy then we should open those chapters, we should come up with an official platform and talk about all these things," he added.
Such a move would be a "sign of sincerity" towards Turkey, the minister said, while levelling an accusation of "double standards" against those who say it will take Turkey at least 20 years to join the EU.
Austria has called for a suspension of membership negotiations, arguing that the country is not ready. Others have said that it will be a long process.
Preparations are underway to open chapters 23 and 24, said EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, while pointing out that member states must agree unanimously to the move.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu said Nicosia's ability to block progress on the accession talks was a "sign of the EU's weakness in finding solutions to certain problems."
Relations have also been strained by a row over visa-free travel for Turkish visitors to the EU. Ankara wants the benefit in return for its help in stemming migration flows to Europe, while arguing that it cannot make required changes to its terrorism laws in the current environment.
"The timing is up to our Turkish colleagues, but it should be possible to find a solution," Hahn said.
The main message of Friday's talks was a "strong recommitment to dialogue and common work on all strands of our cooperation," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, while expressing the bloc's "full solidarity and sympathy" in the wake of the coup.
A similar message was delivered by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who was also paying his first visit to Turkey since the attempted coup.
"Any attack on democracy, in any of our countries, is an attack on the very foundation of our alliance," Stoltenberg said late Thursday following talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"A strong and democratic Turkey is essential for the stability and security of Europe and the region," the NATO chief added.
Turkey, one of NATO's 28 members and a long-running candidate to join the EU, plays a key role in regional issues including the conflict in neighbouring Syria - where it recently launched a ground offensive - and migration flows into Europe that have been fed by the Syrian crisis.
By Helen Maguire
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- Turkey threatens to suspend EU deal over ‘double standards’ with visa-free travel
- Turkey lashes out at EU accusing them of ‘double standards’
- Erdogan demands the EU make a final decision on Turkey’s accession to the union
- EU: Visa-free travel for Turkey on hold without changes to anti-terrorism laws