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International Information Centre for Balkan Studies



Van Rompuy endorses restart of EU-Turkey talks

European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has repeated his invitation for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to come to Brussels to mark the restart of EU entry talks.

Speaking in Ankara on Thursday (23 May 2013) - almost 50 years after the EU and Turkey signed a pre-accession pact in 1963 and more than two years after accession talks halted in 2010 - he said: "We should shortly see the opening of a new chapter in the negotiations."

He added: "I am honoured that the Prime Minister has accepted my invitation to come to Brussels in the coming months in order to follow up on today's fruitful discussions."

Speaking earlier the same day at a business seminar in the Turkish capital, he noted: "After a moment of standstill … [there is] a new impetus that will soon be translated into a concrete step forward."

Despite growing anti-immigration sentiment in several EU countries, Van Rompuy also endorsed visa free travel.

He told the business event: "I trust that an early signature by Turkey of a so-called readmission agreement with the European Union would allow us to advance quickly through the roadmap leading to visa free travel for Turkish citizens."

He added: "Progress can be swift. Visa free travel would give our relationship a new impetus."

Turkey accession talks fizzled out in 2010 partly due to a veto by Cyprus and partly due to French and German hostility to its EU bid.

But France and Germany in recent months said they want to restart the process.

Van Rompuy also noted that the discovery of gas in Cypriot maritime zones "could be an incentive" for Cyprus and Turkey to end the frozen conflict over Turkish-controlled north Cyprus.

"A settlement would open up the range of options for the exploitation of hydrocarbon resources in the economically most advantageous way for the benefit of all Cypriots," he told the Turkish businessmen.

Believers in Turkey's EU entry have long said it would increase the Union's influence in the Middle East and improve energy security by connecting Europe to the gas-rich Caspian Sea.

But sceptics say Turkey has a way to go on human rights and that its poorer regions would suck up billions of EU cohesion money.

Van Rompuy twice urged Erdogan to respect "freedom of expression."

But he noted the Turkish economy would now be the fifth biggest in the Union in terms of total GDP - on par with the Netherlands, but ahead of Belgium, Poland and Sweden.

On the flip side, he assured Turkey the EU is not heading for economic meltdown.

"Let me underline my strong belief that the current stagnation is but momentary ... We will bounce back," he said.

"The existential threat to the eurozone has been defeated," he added.

For his part, Erdogan has shunned visits to the EU capital since 2009.

He told Van Rompuy "that while Turkey is thinking about joining the European Union for its own benefit, it is also considering it for the gains it will bring to the EU … Turkey isn't going to be a burden."

He also noted: "There are currently more than 5 million Turks in the EU, there is already a Turkey [inside the European Union]."

The two men's optimism is not shared by all, however.

Popular support for EU membership in Turkey has fallen from a high of more than 70 percent in 2005 to 33 percent.

Meanwhile, Nobel-prize-winning US economist Edmund Phelps earlier this week told news agency Bloomberg that Iceland is right to put its EU entry talks on hold.

"We’re still learning about the European experiment and to what extent it’s going to succeed," he said.

"I can't believe that anybody's serious about joining the EU right now … It’s like saying: 'It's a beautiful house - it happens to be on fire at the moment - we should buy it'," he added.
Andrew Rettman

Source: http://euobserver.com/enlargement/120233

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