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EU and Turkey open fresh chapter in accession talks

Turkey and the EU have opened another avenue of negotiations regarding Turkey's accession into the bloc. Turkey's long-stalled EU ambitions have been boosted by Europe's desperation on issues like refugees.

"The opening of Chapter 17 is part of the re-energizing of Turkey's accession process as agreed at the

EU-Turkey summit in November,

" Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in a press conference on Monday. Luxembourg currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Chapter 17 focuses on economic and monetary policy, with bolstering the independence of Turkey's central bank a pre-condition to Monday's move. Turkey's EU delegation tweeted this message:

"It is a good day for a peaceful development in our neighborhood … Turkey has a vast interest in working together with us," the EU's enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said.

Monday's meeting was opened after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU representatives signed a special agreement at a summit last month to discuss the refugees fleeing for Europe.

At the time, European countries

pledged to provide Ankara with three billion euros ($3.2 billion)

, reduced visa restrictions for Turkish visitors to the EU, and other benefits - in exchange for help coping with nearly two million Syrian refugees on its soil.

In return, Turkey said it would crack down on human smugglers and prevent economic migrants from crossing over into Europe.

The talks were also to focus on the role of oil exports in financing the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS), after Russia accused Ankara of enabling the IS to smuggle oil.

Discussions on Turkey's accession into the European Union began in 2005. Since then, the process has all but stopped; only one of 35 chapters (Science & Research) has been successfully closed - eight are frozen indefinitely. Prior to Monday, no new chapter had been opened in two years.

"I think we all realize better now that close and positive Turkish-EU relations is essential ... for the region as a whole," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Disagreements over Turkey's rights' record, its democratic credentials, and especially its troubled ties with EU-member Cyprus are among the major impediments to EU accession. Ankara has not opened its ports and airports to Cyprus, which is divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Only Ankara recognizes Turkish northern Cyprus internationally.

Owing to Cyprus, the EU decided in 2006 to suspend negotiations with Ankara on eight of the 35 chapters, including key themes like the free movement of goods, freedom to provide services, customs and external relations.

mg/msh (AFP, dpa)

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