Turkey Pledges to Stick With EU Reforms

Despite the bloc's move to partially freeze Ankara's membership talks over the Cyprus dispute, the Turkish Foreign Minister sounds amenable

Turkey has announced it will stick to a pro-active EU strategy despite the bloc's move to partially freeze Ankara's membership talks over the Cyprus dispute, suggesting it would introduce reforms even in areas under the chapters to be temporarily shelved by the EU.

"If the goal is to reach European standards, then we will do it ourselves without the EU asking for it," Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul said on Monday (25 December), according to press reports.

Ankara's plan has been eagerly awaited in Europe after EU political leaders confirmed the temporary suspension of eight out of 35 negotiating chapters of the country's accession talks in Brussels at the mid-December summit.

With the first reactions by Turkey's politicians suggesting they regarded the decision as unacceptable and popular support for EU membership falling, some feared the latest stand-off would seriously harm the country's reform process.

But Mr Gul insisted his government would implement changes as outlined in the EU's preliminary screening process in all areas without waiting for extra instructions from Brussels.

"It is not possible for us to accept the EU acting in a way that is contrary to the core and spirit of our relations by hiding behind various excuses such as the Cyprus issue," the foreign minister told a gathering of Turkey's main business groups last week, according to AFP agency.

He was referring to the main reason behind the EU's move - Turkey's opposition to open its ports and airspace to Cypriot ships and planes as required by a protocol Ankara had signed before starting the accession talks last October.

"We are committed to our target of full membership. The reform process will continue as before," Gul said, adding "it's out of question to abandon our struggle."

EU member states' representatives in Brussels last week formally invited Ankara to open talks on the industry and enterprise chapter while the European Commission suggested three other chapters Ankara could unveil straight away.

However, under the agreed rules, negotiations can not be provisionally closed in any area until Turkey fulfills its Cyprus-related obligations while the Greek Cypriot government of the divided island has warned it could also block the opening of some chapters if Ankara sticks to its position.

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