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Turkey inches toward long-sought EU membership

The European Union has opened a new chapter of negotiations with Turkey, marking a small step in the country's the long-stalled membership bid. Turkey has completed just one of 35 chapters required to join the bloc.

The European Union and Turkey began a new chapter of negotiations dealing with financial and budgetary provisions on Thursday. The renewal of talks was agreed upon under a migration deal Brussels struck with Ankara.

Turkey formally launched its membership bid in 2005, and since then the EU has opened 15 chapters out of the 35 required to join the bloc, although it has only completed one.

"All EU member states have agreed to open this chapter," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders after meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Brussels.

Refugees a key issue with Turkey

Talks were re-energized as part of a

6 billion euro deal reached in March

in which Turkey agreed to take back migrants that reach EU territory from its soil. In addition to the money provided to Turkey, the EU would accept and resettle a limited number of Syrian refugees from the country.

Flüchtlinge in die Türkei

The EU agreed to boost aid to Turkey to cope with refugees and speed up visa liberalization, but progress has been glacial

To date, the most sensitive topics - security and fundamental rights - have been avoided and

analysts say Turkey's bid remains largely a sideshow

for domestic political consumption.

"The Turkish government knows that Turkey will not become a member to the EU in the foreseeable future but wants to energize the accession process to keep the option open and sell it as a success story," Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund's office in Ankara, told DW.

This comes as Turkey's EU minister told CNN Turk on Thursday that Turkey is on track for visa liberalization this year, a key demand by Ankara.

A sticking point has been

Turkey's anti-terror laws, which Ankara said are not up for negotiation

as it battles a Kurdish insurgency in the southeast as well as attacks from "Islamic State" militants, like the ones that left at least 42 dead on Tuesday.

"New demands directed at Turkey, that would encourage the terrorists," Cavusoglu said Thursday. "We can't make any changes in our terrorism laws. Tomorrow maybe, when conditions change."

Watch video 03:04

Turkish journalists under serious threat (25.03.2016)

'No special cases'

Speaking in Brussels, Koenders stressed the need for Turkey to meet EU rights standards and that no exceptions would be made in Turkey's case.

"As the EU, we also stressed the need for swift reform efforts, especially in areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights," Koenders said. "As a candidate country, naturally (there has to be) respect for the highest standards of democracy and rule of law."

Turkey's bid also faces opposition from member states uneasy about bringing in a Muslim-majority nation of 75 million people into the bloc.

Unluhisarcikli said there are frictions from both EU member states and the Turkish government making meaningful dialogue difficult.

"Turkey's deepening democracy deficit and categorical rejection in some member states are the main obstacles for Turkey's further integration with the EU," he said. "Both are a lack of a long-term vision."

jar/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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