EU to fault Turkey over protests but urge new talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2013 12:05 PM

By Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A keenly awaited European Union report will criticize excessive use of force by Turkish police in tackling protests this year but urge the EU to breathe new life into Turkey's faltering bid to join the 28-nation bloc.

The executive European Commission publishes its annual progress reports on Wednesday assessing how far Ankara and other countries aspiring to membership have come in bringing their laws and behavior into line with EU standards.

EU governments have said they will take this year's report into account in deciding whether to revive Turkey's frozen accession process by opening talks on a new policy area, known as a chapter, the first to be opened in three years.

Turkey began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. But a series of political obstacles, notably over Cyprus, and resistance to Turkish membership in key members Germany and France have slowed progress to a snail's pace.

EU governments, led by Berlin, postponed plans to extend the talks to regional policy in June as a rebuke for the Turkish authorities' handling of environmental demonstrations.

Protests swept Turkish cities after police used teargas and water cannon to disperse a sit-in against the redevelopment of an Istanbul park. Two weeks of clashes with police left four people dead and about 7,500 injured.

The Commission's report will criticize excessive use of force by police and a lack of dialogue with protesters, but it will also note reforms made by the Turkish government, including a "democratization package" announced by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan last month, an EU source said.

The report should not create any obstacle to opening a new round of membership talks with Turkey, the source said.

"On the contrary, we make it very clear that we expect the member states to deliver on what they have agreed and promised," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkey is deeply frustrated at what it sees as humiliating treatment by Europe, which has turned its public opinion against EU membership. Turkish EU negotiator Egemen Bagis complained this month that the EU has held dozens of summits with Russia, China, Brazil and other partners in the last decade but only one with Turkey and other candidate countries.

NEW ROUND

EU governments will consider the Commission's report at a meeting on October 22 and EU sources say they could decide to launch the new round of talks with Turkey in early November.

Ankara has provisionally completed just one of 35 chapters of accession talks. It has opened a dozen more policy areas but most of the rest are blocked due to disputes over the divided island of Cyprus or hostility from some EU members.

The Commission hopes the EU and Turkey will be able to sign an agreement to re-admit illegal immigrants sent back from the EU and start talks before the end of the year on easing visa requirements for Turks travelling to the EU, the source said.

While Turkey's membership bid has languished, Brussels has moved faster to integrate the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Croatia, which began negotiations on the same day as Turkey, has already joined the bloc and Serbia won a green light in June to start negotiations by next January.

The Commission will propose starting talks on fundamental rights and justice first with Serbia, setting interim benchmarks to keep up pressure on Belgrade to continue normalizing relations with its former province Kosovo, the EU source said.

If it failed to achieve the benchmarks, the EU could slow progress in other areas.

The Commission will also propose on Wednesday that EU governments formally recognize Albania as a candidate for membership, the source said.

A year ago, the EU executive recommended that Albania be granted candidate status, subject to judicial and public administration reforms.

The Commission believes those conditions have now been met and will not set any further conditions beyond saying Tirana must continue efforts to fight corruption and organized crime.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Paul Taylor)