European and Turkish officials will meet in Prague today, two weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama backed the mainly Muslim nation's bid to join the European Union, an issue that divides Europeans. Turkey is an official EU candidate nation but its accession process has been slowed down both by its long-running row with Cyprus and misgivings about allowing such a large Muslim country to join the club.
"The meeting will address issues of EU-Turkey relations and the progress in Turkey's accession talks with the EU," along with energy security and regional and international concerns, notably the Middle East peace process, the Czech EU presidency said in a statement. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will meet Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Turkey’s top negotiator Egemen Bağış.
25 chapters remain
"We will once again display our policy, which is to continue the membership negotiations with the same determination," Bağış told Television 24 on Sunday. "Turkey has carried out major democratic reforms and will continue to do so in the coming months. We are not going to stop," said Bağış who will travel on from Prague to France and Sweden.
France is one of the main opponents of Turkey joining the EU, while Sweden is one of its biggest supporters. However, according to a European source, the trip to Prague will not be the occasion for a major discussion on Turkey's membership bid. The EU presidency is expected to confirm its wish to open two more of the 35 policy chapters, which all candidate nations must successfully negotiate prior to membership Ğ those of social policy and taxation.
However, in order to do so Turkey will have to fulfill certain conditions, in particular the adoption of a new law on union rights, the European source said. Since it began its formal membership talks in October 2005 Turkey has so far only opened 10 of the 35 chapters. Eight others have been frozen since 2006 due to Ankara's refusal to deal with the divided island of Cyprus. Five more, directly linked to membership, are blocked by France. Croatia began its membership talks at the same time as Turkey but has since forged ahead and hopes to join the bloc as early as next year or 2011. Unlike Croatia, Turkey has had no promise of eventual membership, even though it is continuing the formal accession process.
Obama voiced strong support for Turkey's EU bid during his first official trip to Europe earlier this month, "Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe," Obama said in a speech in Turkish Parliament in Ankara. "Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith. ... And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more," he said.
Those comments prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy to shoot back that it was up to the EU to decide. "I have always been opposed to this entry and I remain opposed," Sarkozy said.