European Union governments postponed the resumption of Turkey’s membership talks by at least four months, protesting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s heavy-handed treatment of peaceful dissenters.
Turkey got a symbolic declaration that the entry process, on hold since mid-2010, will proceed once Erdogan’s government obtains a positive progress report from the EU in October.
“We cannot neglect that we have strategic long-term interests, and we have to weigh everything precisely and make a clever diplomatic decision,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters before the EU announcement in Luxembourg today.
EU governments are trying to salvage the notion that Turkey is headed to membership, both to support the 27-nation bloc’s closest ally in the Muslim world and to show that EU expansion remains on track.
Germany floated the compromise after threatening to block the restart of the talks, which had been scheduled for tomorrow. Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU negotiator, had warned that an EU snub would lead Turkey to consider “other options.”
While the EU door is open, Turkish membership is far off. Since starting the entry bid in October 2005, Turkey has completed talks in only one of 35 EU policy areas.
Another policy area, covering regional affairs, was declared “open” today. The normal step of immediately starting face-to-face talks with Turkey in that area, however, was put off until a separate October decision that any EU government could block.
As a result, Turkey, which first applied to join the EU in 1987, found itself in a new form of EU limbo. The Ankara government has watched as Croatia, which started entry talks on the same day as Turkey in 2005, sped ahead en route to becoming an EU member next week.
“It is an insufficient step but in the right direction in relations with the EU, which have been going through difficult times due to inactivity for a long time,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara.