Babacan: EU foot-dragging will slow down pace of reform in Turkey
Political opposition to Turkey joining the European Union risks slowing down the pace of reforms by Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan warned Tuesday, reported dpa.
Speaking after a meeting with EU officials in Brussels, Babacan said opposition by some European countries to Turkey joining the EU was throwing obstacles on his country's European path.
"It is important to have the goal of full membership maintained," said Babacan, adding that political impediments within the EU were wearing down his government's "enthusiasm and motivation to carry forward with reforms."
Babacan did not name any countries, but Germany is known to be lukewarm about Turkey's membership prospects, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy is openly against the idea of Turkey joining the EU.
Shortly after his election, Sarkozy proposed the creation of a union of Mediterranean countries. That proposal, which has since been scaled down and incorporated within the EU's existing neighbourhood policy, had raised concerns in Ankara that it was meant as an alternative to EU membership.
Cyprus has also been accused of political foot-dragging within the 27-member bloc.
Turkey first signed an association agreement with the then European Economic Community back in 1963, but its membership prospects only received a significant boost in 2004, when EU governments agreed to open accession talks with Turkey.
Since then, negotiations have progressed at a slow pace, with only a dozen of the 35 policy areas (chapters) where Turkey needs to adapt to EU standards having been addressed so far.
Noting that progress remains largely in Turkish hands, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said negotiations could be speeded up if Turkey took steps to guarantee freedom of speech, create an independent judiciary and align its competition rules to European norms.
"The best medicine to revitalize Turkey's EU accession progress is for the reforms to move forward," Rehn said.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said Turkey had made good progress and could one day become "one of the most important members of the EU."
Babacan thanked Slovenia for its handling of the negotiations during its semester as EU president and expressed his hope that the next EU presidency would have the same "constructive approach."
France is due to take over the presidency from Slovenia on July 1.