Ireland, which will assume the rotating EU presidency starting Jan. 1, 2013, has said it will aim to revitalize the stagnant relations between the EU and Turkey, claiming that Turkey should be able to open at least one chapter of the EU acquis communautaire during the Irish term.
Turkey froze what were already stagnant relations with the EU in the second half of 2012, when the Greek Cypriot administration assumed the rotating term presidency. Irish Minister of European Affairs Lucinda Creighton told Today’s Zaman in and exclusive interview that “we will be very well positioned to work with Turkey on opening at least one chapter during the Irish presidency. That is our goal and I think that we will be able to deliver that.”
Creighton maintained that opening at least one chapter would get Turkey’s EU “negotiation process underway once again.” Known for her anti-Turkey position in the past, Creighton still emphasized that the accession process for Turkey to the EU is something to be realized in the long term.
She further maintained that ongoing engagement between the EU and Turkey would be positive in terms of furthering democratization in Turkey.
“We have concerns … in terms of human rights issues, freedom of press [and] about the [rights of the] Kurdish minority. The best way to achieve progress, to build on the human rights record of Turkey, is through engagement. So, I think that the process of negotiation is a really important part of that,” Creighton remarked.
Turkey opened accession talks with the EU in 2005, but progress has been slow since then due to the Cyprus dispute as well as opposition to Turkey’s membership by some member countries, including France and Germany. Of the 35 chapters that must be successfully negotiated by any candidate country as a condition for membership, only 13 have been opened by Turkey; 17 have been blocked and four have not yet been opened — only one is provisionally closed, on science and research. No chapters have been opened in the past two-and-a-half years, since the end of the Spanish presidency in June 2010.
EU countries have recently expressed regret over Turkey’s froze relations with the EU and refusal to address the Greek Cypriot administration.
The 32-year-old minister, expressing hope that Ireland’s term presidency will “put some substance” into Turkey’s EU process, deemed Turkey a very important country as the EU’s biggest trading partner.
With its close trade and investment links with the EU, Turkey remains a valuable part of Europe’s competitiveness.
EU committed to its promises, minister says
Creighton stated that EU is fully committed to its promises and that the current EU economic crisis will not be an obstacle to EU enlargement in the coming period.
“I don’t think our economic situation really has any bearing on our capacity to deliver on the accession process. We are fully committed,” the minister noted.
The minister believes the EU economy has a bright future, claiming that the eurozone crisis will be a lesson to the EU to restructure and strengthen its economy.
“We are dramatically restructuring all eurozone countries. All members states of the EU are becoming more competitive, bringing down the cost of labor and just becoming more flexible and more open,” Creighton stated.
‘Biggest enlargement was during our presidency’
Ireland’s confidence is based in its EU enlargement record. In 2004, during its term presidency, the EU experienced its greatest enlargement, gaining 10 new members.
“We have a very proud record on the question of enlargement and we have the experience of working on the negotiation process with a range of member states in the past. So, I think we will be very well positioned to work with Turkey on opening at least one chapter during the Irish presidency,” Creighton explained.
Creighton stated that she does have concerns about huge immigration to EU countries, but that this does not only involve Turkey — it would be a problem with many new member states.
“The Schengen area hasn’t yet even been opened up the current EU member states. Bulgaria and Romania still have not entered the Schengen zone. So, there are concerns, not in just respect of Turkey, but concerns in respect of new member states. We have to find a solution that is acceptable to the EU member states,” Creighton maintained.
Asked whether it is fair for the settlement of Cyprus dispute to be an obstacle to Turkey’s EU bid, Creighton said: “I don’t see Cyprus as an obstacle. I know that at the beginning of the Cyprus presidency there were some statements from Turkey in respect of not recognizing the authority. I thought that was unfortunate.”
She stressed that the EU is not an appropriate forum at which to deal with the Cyprus issue, pointing to the importance of the UN role in resolving the problem.