By CONSTANT BRAND
2009-06-30 10:51 PM
Egemen Bagis said his government was ready to widen the membership negotiations in such policy areas as energy, environment, competition, social policy, education and culture if some EU countries were ready to lift their vetoes to do so.
"We will do our best to help Europe solve its energy crisis but we would also like to see the energy chapter opened for logical reasons," Bagis told reporters after talks with EU officials. He said his country "is determined to play the game within the rules" but said it was unfair for some EU countries to keep blocking progress in the talks.
The European Commission has urged EU countries to open talks in the so-called energy chapter to speed up EU efforts to find alternative gas and oil routes. The EU gets most of its natural gas from Russia through the Ukraine. However, a price dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to supply cutoffs last winter. Turkey is selling itself as a more reliable route through which to ship energy supplies to the 27-nation bloc.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said last week that his country's six-month turn as EU president, which starts Wednesday, will be keen to jump-start the talks, but warned full EU membership for Turkey remains a divisive issue for many member states.
EU members Cyprus and Greece are blocking a widening of the negotiations into energy issues because of Turkey's refusal to recognize Cyprus and to honor a 2005 pact to open its ports and airports to Cypriot trade. The countries are also blocking talks in seven other areas to protest Turkey's stance.
"Most amazingly at a time when Europe is having an energy crisis, the fact that one small member state enjoying the Mediterranean sun, which is not affected ... can jeopardize the energy needs of 490 million Europeans by blocking this chapter," said Bagis.
He reiterated Turkish calls that its entry bid be "based on fairness."
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, who chaired Tuesday's talks with Turkey, said the two sides had opened entry talks in taxation issues.
"This proves the EU's enlargement policy is on track," Kohout said, but added the pace of negotiations depends on Turkey's progress in implementing asked for reforms in its judiciary and political system and to recognize Cyprus, which Ankara refuses to do.
The membership talks, which started in 2005, have made scant progress and are virtually stalled due to growing misgivings by many EU countries over allowing predominantly Muslim Turkey to join.
To conclude entry negotiations, Turkey has to bring its government policies in line with EU standards in 35 different policy areas, known as "chapters." Of these, only 11 have been opened in the last four years. Of the remaining 24, eight face a veto from Cyprus and Greece.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes Turkish membership, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has advocated a vaguely defined partnership with the largely Muslim country.