Turkey came a small step closer towards European Union membership on Wednesday, Dec. 19, starting negotiations on two new policy areas. Ankara seized the opportunity to attack some states' attempts to block its entry.
This means that six chapters have been opened until now. To conclude the accession process, talks have to be completed in thirty-five different fields.
Speaking after a different meeting in Brussels, the EU commissioner
in charge of enlargement, Finland's Olli Rehn, said that all
member states had reaffirmed their wish to see accession talks continue, adding that the opening of the two chapters on Wednesday should be taken as proof that "the EU sticks to its commitments and keeps its word."
Ankara began EU entry talks in 2005, but they have moved forward very slowly because of rows over Cyprus and human rights. Eight negotiating chapters have been blocked since the end of last year because of Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU member Cyprus.
Turkey's negotiations are expected to last at least a decade, with no guarantee of membership at the end of it all.
Ankara criticizes blocking maneuver
After the formal opening of talks on health and consumer protection and trans-European transport networks, Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan criticized attempts by individual EU member states to block Turkey's entry bid.
"It is obvious that certain EU member states are trying to erode political and legal aspects of the accession process," he said. Babacan did not name any names, but French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has been leading the lobby to keep Turkey out of the European Union. He favors a special partnership with the mainly Muslim country instead of full membership.
Babacan also stressed that all EU heads of state had agreed in December 2004 to the start of accession talks with Turkey. He said a change of government should not have an impact on this promise. "We expect all EU member states to stick to that," he said.
EU states look into the future
At last Friday's EU summit, members agreed to create a group to study the long-term future of Europe. European Union leaders named former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales, a past critic of Turkey's entry bid, to head the group.
A spokesman said Gonzales had modified his position and now says the EU should honor any commitments it has made to Turkey.
Spain, Britain, Italy and Sweden are among the EU states keenest to keep its membership bid on track. Germany's governing Christian Democrats are opposed to Turkish entry, but Chancellor Angela Merkel did nothing to attempt to stop the opening of further negotiations.