The Turkish government's handling of protests that have rocked the country for the past three weeks have strained relations with the EU, and a decision to take another step in Ankara’s accession talks, expected today (24 June), appears uncertain. EurActiv Turkey reports. Can Girgiç, Euractiv, 24.06.2013
Hopes were high that a new chapter in EU-Turkey’s accession negotiations could be opened at a meeting of EU foreign ministers today in Luxembourg, since France earlier this year lifted its veto on chapter 22, covering regional policies. An intergovernmental conference on 26 June was expected to give a boost to the accession negotiations, which were virtually frozen over the last three years (see background). But following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s criticism on the Turkish government’s handling of the protests, Turkey’s accession negotiations risk further stalemate. Last week, EU diplomats working to prepare the EU-Turkey intergovernmental conference failed to agree on opening the chapter, with Germany and the Netherlands blocking the decision. On Friday, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke confirmed that Germany and “other countries” had reservations about opening the chapter. Although the issue is not officially on their agenda, EU foreign ministers who are due to meet in Luxemburg today (24 June) are expected to discuss the possibility of opening chapter 22 with Turkey. If the EU member states fail to reach an agreement, the opening of the chapter will not receive the green light on Wednesday (26 June) when the EU-Turkey intergovernmental conference takes place. Negotiating for membership since 2005, Turkey has opened thirteen of the thirty-three negotiation chapters and provisionally closed only one. No chapter has been opened since 2010, causing great disillusionment in Turkey with the process. Eight chapters remain blocked due to the ongoing Cyprus dispute, in addition to France’s veto on several chapters. 'No direct link' with the protests Peschke said that there was no direct link between the protests in Turkey and the EU negotiations, underlining that the chapter which was planned to be opened this week was a “technical” one. He also said that Germany’s position did not put in question “if” the accession process should continue, but rather “how” it should proceed. During a visit to Turkey last February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had expressed her support for continuing the “open-ended” accession negotiations, voicing her reservations about Turkey’s membership to the EU. In a written statement, Turkish minister for EU affairs Egemen Bağış expressed his disappointment with Germany’s efforts to block the chapter, and called for the negotiations to move on. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the President of the Turkish main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), wrote letters to Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in support of opening the new chapter. He said that while he shared the two leaders’ concerns about the situation of democracy in Turkey, opening the negotiation chapters was necessary to address these concerns with a European perspective. Nordic support “It would be a huge mistake to try to block Turkey’s EU progress right at this time,” tweeted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who is a long time supporter of Turkish membership to the EU. Continuation of the process is “needed more than ever” and a “key support for reformers”, he added. Dutch liberal MEP Marietje Schaake called the EU to act “collectively and responsibly”, writing on her website that “taking drastic decisions in reply to a crisis is not the right way”. As a result of tensions between Ankara and other European capitals, several EU meetings are being cancelled or delayed. An EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting, scheduled in Brussels later this week, is now uncertain. Turkey’s participation will largely depend on the decision to open the new chapter, sources said. A European Parliament resolution adopted two weeks ago, criticising the Turkish government’s harsh response to the protests in the country, had triggered a furious response from Ankara, with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying that he neither recognised the resolution or “such a European Parliament”. Other signs of tension are the cancellation of visits. Turkish minister for justice Sadullah Ergin’s visit to Brussels last week was put off, as well as an EP delegation’s visit to Turkey. German elections blamed Turkey blames Merkel for using Turkey’s accession negotiations in her campaign, ahead of the 22 September German parliamentary elections. A draft programme of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) ahead of the September’s general elections, seen by Reuters, read: “We reject full membership for Turkey” and argues that Turkey would overburden the union with its size and the structure of its economy. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has an observer status at European People’s Party (EPP), where the CDU sits. Speaking in Istanbul on Thursday, Bağış reacted angrily to the leaked text. “If Ms. Merkel is trying to find an issue for domestic affairs regarding the elections, this issue should not be Turkey. If Ms. Merkel looks at what happened to those who resorted to such issues, like Sarkozy; she would see that there is not an auspicious end for those who meddle with Turkey,” said Bağış, referring to the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat in last year’s elections. Der Spiegel reported that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was irritated by these remarks and Turkey’s ambassador in Berlin was summoned for talks on Friday. In retaliation, the Turkish foreign ministry also summoned the German ambassador.