Turkey welcomes new EU chapter but says it’s not enough

imgTurkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has welcomed the newly announced opening of Chapter 22 in Turkey’s EU accession process by calling it a positive step.

But he also said that the decision was tardy and insufficient, pointing to a significant loss of time in Turkey’s EU candidacy. Responding to reporters’ questions in Ankara before his departure for Russia on Wednesday, Erdoğan said: “This is a positive step, although it is late. However, it is certainly not satisfactory for us because faster steps need to be taken [by the EU] as there has been a massive amount of time wasted.”

The European Union’s General Affairs Council approved the opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession to the EU on Tuesday, deciding that an intergovernmental conference for this purpose will be held on Nov. 5. The opening of Chapter 22 was approved in June, but the actual start of the talks was postponed until after the announcement of the European Commission’s annual progress report on Oct. 16 in retaliation for Turkey’s handling of the Gezi Park protests, which started as a small environmental protest in late May but blossomed into a nationwide anti-government movement.

Mentioning the obstacles that Turkey has encountered on its 50-year journey toward the European Union, Erdoğan said that at first the number of chapters to be fulfilled was 15 before the EU raised it to 35. Erdoğan also underlined some EU countries’ negative approach to Turkey’s EU membership, mentioning France and Germany.

“The intervention of France on this issue — of course I refer to the [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy era — has affected the process negatively. That negative [atmosphere in the accession] process seems to be over with the presidency of Hollande, as France doesn’t handle the issue negatively these days. I hope that after this period of time, Chancellor Merkel will approach the issue more positively,” he said, adding, “I believe that from now, there will be more positive steps and we will cover ground more rapidly.”

Turkey’s accession talks have been frozen for three years. France and Germany have been maintaining a hard-line position on Turkey’s becoming a full member of the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to block the opening of Chapter 22 over the Gezi Park protests. Though Merkel later welcomed an agreement to reopen talks with Turkey and stepped back from her harsh remarks, she underlined that democratic values were “non-negotiable” in Turkey’s process.

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