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    Turkey's PM Erdogan seeks leap forward in EU entry bid in 2009

    Hurriyet DN online with wires
    19.01.2009 - 11:04 | Son Güncelleme:

    Turkey’s prime minister said Monday accession to the European Union was a top priority and that he hoped his country would move closer to that goal in 2009. (UPDATED)

    "Our accession to the EU is a top priority for Turkey," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by Reuters as saying at the European Policy Center in Brussels.

     

    "I hope that 2009 is going to be a very different year. For us there is no alternative to becoming a member," he added. 

     

    Erdogan's trip, his first to Brussels in four years, comes as Ankara faces EU pressure to speed up reforms in a decisive year.

     

    During his three-day trip, the Turkish prime minister would meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering and the leaders of political groups represented in the assembly.

     

    Erdogan said Turkey was working on many of the reforms asked for by the EU, including laws governing trade unions.

     

    "We are coming as a country which contributes to peace and stability," he said, referring to Turkey's peace efforts aiming at finding solutions to long-standing disputes in the Middle East and the Caucasus.

     

    DOWNTURN IN PUBLIC SUPPORT

    "Despite Turkey's all efforts in EU process, negative statements made by EU politicians caused a downturn in Turkey's public support to EU membership from 75 percent to 50 percent over the past four years," he added.

     

    "We don't ask for privileges, what we ask for is equal and fair treatment," he said, complaining that chapters had been blocked for political reasons.

     

    The EU has opened ten chapters out of 35 with Turkey, with only one successfully closed, since membership talks began in October 2005. Eight chapters in the negotiations were suspended due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels before the EU eases its isolation on the Turkish community on the island.

     

    Turkey has complained that the 27-member bloc has regularly opened only two chapters in Turkey's accession negotiations in each presidency term.

     

    Analysts attribute the slow process to domestic politics, lack of enthusiasm for the bloc at home and a lack of appetite for further enlargement among EU states.

     

    Referring to skepticism among many Turks regarding EU accession, he said the government was working on convincing them: "As the results of our efforts our people are going to come to believe that this is important and they are going to give our support to us," Reuters quoted him as saying.

     

    Erdogan is being accompanied during his Brussels visit by Egemen Bagis, Turkey's first full-time EU negotiator, whose appointment last week was seen as a sign that Ankara might be willing to push long-delayed reforms, and State Minister Said Yazicioglu. 

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