Europe

Turkey: progress, frustration on EU bid

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bagis, says the EU decision to open a new area of discussion on Turkey's membership bid is a positive sign. But he is blasting other member countries for blocking further talks, particularly Cyprus.

Adding momentum to a process that has been stalled, the European Union agreed this week to begin discussing regional policy with Turkey, the first talks in three years. That is one of dozens of topics — called chapters — that would need to be settled before Turkey could join the union.

Bagis said in an interview with The Associated Press that slow progress is producing doubts in Turkey about whether the European Union will ever offer membership. "Of course we are very, very frustrated and sometimes I question the sincerity of some of the European decision makers," he said.

The EU started negotiations with NATO member Turkey in 2005, despite skepticism among some of its member states about a big Muslim nation joining the predominantly Christian bloc of around 500 million people. Some EU states in June blocked the opening of new talks to protest Turkey's heavy-handed response to the country's protests. The new chapter is one of 35 chapters aspiring members must address.

Bagis said that a number of countries are still putting up roadblocks. He singled out Cyprus, which is blocking numerous chapters amid its dispute with Turkey over the status of the northern part of the island. The island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent northern state in 1983, recognized only by Turkey.

Bagis expressed optimism about new talks to resolve the issue, but he said that Cyprus was blocking critical chapters and argued that progress could benefit both sides. He cited the chapter on energy, noting that Turkey is a key transit country for energy supplies to Europe.

"One member state is hijacking the energy interests of 500 million Europeans just because they could," he said. Despite frustration in Turkey, Bagis praised the European Union's prescriptions for reform. He has often compared Brussels to a dietitian. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently bristled at European Union criticism in an annual appraisal of Turkey's bid and suggested that Europe should focus on its own problems. But Bagis says the process is good for Turkey.

"The fact that the dietitian itself is overweight or has a few clogged arteries or is even moody these days, doesn't necessarily make the prescription bad," he said.

Follow Desmond Butler on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/desmondbutler

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