Turkey demands progress in EU accession at bridge-building talks

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.

Friday's visit by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the bloc's neighbourhood policy commissioner, Johannes Hahn, was their first since the coup attempt. In parallell, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was also in Ankara for the first time since July.

The EU and NATO were quick to condemn the failed coup, but have since warned Turkey to abide by democratic values amid a 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.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu 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.

Friday's main message was a "strong recommitment to dialogue and common work on all strands of our cooperation," Mogherini said, while expressing the bloc's "full solidarity and sympathy" following the coup.

Stoltenberg delivered a similar message in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Cavusoglu, among others.

"The coup attempt was not only a trauma for Turkey and for your democracy but it was also an attack on the core values on which NATO is based," the alliance chief said, adding that "Turkey is and will remain a strong and highly valued member."

Cavusoglu welcomed his support, pointing out that some had questioned his country's membership of the alliance in the wake of the coup.

Turkey 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 crisis which began in 2011.

Last update: Fri, 09/09/2016 - 19:07

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