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Don’t take Turkey for granted: Bağış to EU July 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey.
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Turkey’s top EU negotiator urges the bloc to imagine ‘an EU without Turkey,’ saying Ankara can no longer accept the
roadblocks it has faced
Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bağış, (R) explains his visions on slow-moving negotiations on Turkey’s bid to become a bloc member to Hürriyet Daily News’ editor-in-chief, Murat Yetkin (C), and Ankara Bureau chief, Serkan Demirtaş. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bağış, (R) explains his visions on slow-moving negotiations on Turkey’s bid to become a bloc member to Hürriyet Daily News’ editor-in-chief, Murat Yetkin (C), and Ankara Bureau chief, Serkan Demirtaş.

With enthusiasm diminishing in Turkey for joining the European Union due to some member countries’ antagonistic stances toward Ankara, Turkey’s top EU negotiator has urged the bloc to try and imagine a “union without Turkey.”

“They should use their imagination. How would the EU be without Turkey?” EU Minister Egemen Bağış told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Thursday.

Earlier in July, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened the European Union that relations would be suspended in the second half of 2012 if Greek Cyprus were to assume the bloc’s term presidency without the collaboration of Turkish Cyprus.

In a meeting in his working office, which has been upgraded to the European Union Ministry from the EU General-Secretariat, Bağış explained to the Daily News the duties of this new body, as well as how Turkey was evaluating the future of Turkey-EU relations.

“We have thought about a Turkey without Europe since 1959. But at the point we are at now, we believe it’s time for them to think this over,” Bağış said.

In 1959, Turkey officially launched a process for its future accession to the European Union, a process that has yet to be concluded and is currently moving at a snail’s pace due largely to political difficulties stemming from the Cyprus problem. Turkey began negotiations in 2005 but has only been able to open 13 chapters, and only close one, out of a total of 35.

Turkey and the EU have multidimensional relations, Bağış said, noting that EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton was still seeking Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s advice before going to Tunisia for talks.

“This indicates Turkey’s potential in influencing [European policies]. But while all these things are happening, [Turkey is] experiencing difficulties no other candidates have ever suffered,” Bağış said. “Not keeping the promises made or imposing harsh visa restrictions on Turkish citizens while the 193 million people of Brazil enjoy visa-free travel to EU are examples of things that we can no longer accept. Do not take Turkey for granted. This nation has pride.”

‘Use your influence on Greek Cyprus’

The discouraging mood around talks to resolve the Cyprus dispute has further strained relations between Turkey and the EU. Turkey blames Greek Cyprus for the deadlock in talks and criticizes the bloc for not putting enough pressure on Greek Cypriots. Calling on EU countries, Bağış said, “Do not remain silent to the efforts of Greek Cyprus – the spoiled child of the Europe – to block Turkey in almost every field.”

Greek steps needed for Halki seminary

When asked whether the government would consider allowing the reopening of the Halki Seminary 40 years after it was closed as a symbolic gesture toward Greece, Bağış said there were reciprocal steps the Aegean neighbor had to take to pave the way for the seminary’s reopening.

“We have granted Turkish citizenship to 18 [Greek Orthodox] religious figures so that [non-Muslim religious communities in Turkey] can elect their spiritual leaders,” the minister said. “There is not a single cemetery in Athens for Muslims. There is no place even for a Muslim to go for Friday prayers. But [the Greeks] are categorized as a country with democratic standards and are able to criticize Turkey. This is not the case.”

Turkey’s reform kitchen

Turkey’s new European Union Ministry is “the country’s reform kitchen,” which will help Turkey catch up with European standards and implementations in almost every field, said EU Minister Egemen Bağış.

“We are turning this ministry into the reform kitchen of Turkey. We are giving support to all our ministries and other government offices during their reform process,” the minister said.

“The EU has standards and member countries have their own implementations. Take the paid military service for example,” Bağış said, listing the different questions that might be asked in formulating an implementation. “What is the implementation in Germany? In which countries does it exist? What are the different implementations of compulsory military services in EU countries?”

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