21 June 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL – Representatives from European Union countries failed to reach an agreement on Thursday that would clear the way for the opening of talks on one of the 35 negotiating chapters for Turkey’s eventual accession into the EU.
The EU’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) failed to reach a consensus during its meeting because of opposition from Germany and the Netherlands to open the accession talks with Turkey on Chapter 22, which regulates regional policies. Talks on this chapter were expected to be opened before the end of June, when Ireland’s rotating term presidency of the EU ends, and after France, another EU heavyweight which opposes Turkish membership, lifted its veto on talks on Chapter 22 in February.
Turkey began accession talks with the EU on Oct. 3, 2005, but the last time the EU opened talks on a negotiating chapter was three years ago, on June 30, 2010, the last day of the Spanish presidency. Turkey has only been able to open 13 of 35 chapters and has temporarily closed one since the talks started. Turkey’s troubled bid to join the EU suffered a fresh setback when the government responded to protests to demolish Gezi Park in downtown İstanbul. The protests began as an environmentalist sit-in against plans to build a shopping mall on the park, but they quickly spiraled into anti-government demonstrations across Turkey. “Nothing was decided. The Germans have to report back home, but it seems they are leaning towards not opening the chapter,” an EU diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters about Thursday’s COREPER meeting.
COREPER is now set to discuss the issue again on Monday, ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. Observers say, however, that there is little possibility that the committee will give the go-ahead for the opening of talks on Chapter 22 given the persisting opposition from Germany. Unlike Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel openly opposes Turkish membership, the Netherlands may lift its objection to the opening of the talks on Chapter 22 following a debate at Dutch Parliament, news website ABHaber.com reported on Thursday.
The Turkish government, which has dismissed EU criticism over the Gezi Park protests, has warned that the EU failure to open talks on Chapter 22 would elicit a harsh response. Observers say that could include bold steps, including severing dialogue with the 27-nation bloc and recalling the Turkish permanent representative at the EU, Ambassador Selim Yenel. The setback in Brussels came days after it emerged that Merkel’s conservative coalition, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) oppose Turkey’s membership in its program for the upcoming German elections in September.
The CDU/CSU election program says Turkey would “overburden” the EU because of its size and economy, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. The parties also dropped using the term “privileged partnership” to describe the preferred relationship between Turkey and the EU and reiterated their long-standing opposition to its accession instead. “We reject full membership for Turkey because the country does not meet the criteria for joining the EU,” the election program says. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official slammed the German position as election maneuvering and told Today’s Zaman earlier this week that Turkey will not “beg anyone” to join the EU. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU Minister, also criticized Merkel on Thursday, saying that the German Chancellor should not use Turkey as “domestic political material” for the elections. “If Mrs. Merkel looks into it, she will see that those who mess around with Turkey do not have an auspicious end,” he said.