EU tells Turkey to be ‘neighbourly’ to win membership

In the EU's latest report on Turkey's long-stalled bid to join the union, the European Commission said "serious shortcomings" on democracy and the rule of law remained in the country

Brussels (AFP) – The EU on Tuesday criticised Turkey’s efforts to win membership of the bloc, saying recent spats with European states were “not conducive to good neighbourly relations”.

In its latest report on Ankara’s long-stalled bid to join the union, the European Commission said “serious shortcomings” on democracy and the rule of law remained.

But it focused particularly on rows including Ankara’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to prevent the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government from exploring for oil and gas.

“Tensions in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean were not conducive to good neighbourly relations and undermined regional stability and security,” the report said.

“Bilateral relations with several EU member states deteriorated, including at times offensive and unacceptable rhetoric.”

The report added: “Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations.”

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini ruled out ending the current freeze on opening new “chapters” in Turkey’s EU membership process.

“Turkey is a candidate country, an important partner for the EU and a key actor, but it is not the time to open a new chapter in the negotiations,” she said.

Reacting to the report, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said that “full membership of the European Union remains an unchanged target for Turkey.”

Negotiations began in 2005 and so far Turkey has opened just 16 out of 33 chapters.

Relations between Brussels and Ankara have been particularly tense in the wake of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown following a coup attempt in July 2016.

Erdogan has drifted increasingly closer to Russia and Iran, especially concerning the conflict in Syria, despite being a NATO member.

But Bozdag added: “It is not Turkey that has distanced itself from the European Union, it is the European Union which is not behaving objectively on the issue of full membership and is, unfortunately, partisan.” 

“But despite this we have not given up on our EU targets and after this (the report) we have no intention of giving up,” added Bozdag, who is also government spokesman.

Meanwhile, he said it was up to EU member Greece to avoid “provocative” acts which he warned risked leading to “undesired incidents” in the Aegean Sea.