Even as Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union plods forward, Ankara is quickly gaining influence on the world stage. EU foreign ministers met to debate the future of Turkey's relationship with the bloc.
EU foreign ministers say Turkey remains an important partner
The European Union is split on the issue of Turkey joining the EU and little progress has been made on membership the negotiations which began in 2005. But Turkey's clout on the international stage has been growing and, according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the country is an ally to the EU on several key issues.
Ashton, along with foreign ministers from the EU member countries and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met in Brussels on Saturday to discuss the future of the relationship between the 27-member bloc and Turkey.
"The purpose of today's debate is … to recognize that as well as a candidate country, Turkey is a partner with us in lots of issues across the world," Ashton said as she arrived for the informal meeting.
Turkey has, for example, taken a leading role in discussions with Iran over its disputed nuclear program and the Middle East peace process, added Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both rejected the idea of Turkey's membership, suggesting instead a "privileged partnership."
While officially Turkey remains a candidate for EU membership and talks are ongoing, little progress has been made public. Of the 35 chapters that make up the EU's screening process for new members, officials have provisionally closed talks on just one section with negotiations continuing in only eight more.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it's important, however, that Turkey see that the Europe is serious about working together.
"As Europeans, we have great interest in making sure that Turkey remains oriented towards the West and does not reorient itself," he said.
Westerwelle wants Turkey to look to the West but won't offer full EU membership
Britain, Italy and Finland have pushed for accession talks to move forward.
"Arguably, Turkey today is more influential in the world than any of our member states, together or separately," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb. "We're not talking about some kind of privileged partnership; we're talking about deep integration and cooperation."
One part of the accession process is that Turkey must bring its laws in line with those of the EU. On Sunday, Turkish voters are set to weigh in on a package of constitutional reforms that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said would bring Turkey more in line with EU norms.
Critics have, however, charged that the changes would remove critical checks on the ruling party's power and undermine Turkey's secular state.
Author: Holly Fox (AP/dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico