UK's Miliband reaffirms his country's support to Turkey's EU bid

UKs Miliband reaffirms his countrys support to Turkeys EU bid

ISTANBUL - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband reaffirmed late Tuesday his country's support for Turkey's bid to join the EU, saying Ankara's full membership would bring economic dynamism into the bloc, help solve its energy security problems and build closer ties between the West and the Muslim world.

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"Britain is more convinced than it has ever been that the strategic decision to support Turkey's accession to the European Union is the right one," Miliband, who is currently in Ankara on an official visit, told Reuters.

"It is good for Europe as well as for Turkey," he added.

Turkey began EU membership negotiations in 2005, but progress has since largely ground to a halt because of strong opposition in some member countries like France, Germany and Austria, and disagreements over the divided island of Cyprus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this month reiterated their opposition to Ankara joining the EU. The pair insisted that the 27-member bloc offer Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead, a move analysts described as an indicator of short-time calculations to achieve political advantage ahead of the European Parliament elections set for next month.

Miliband said the bloc should adopt a more "open outlook" and embrace the long-term benefits of Turkey's membership provided it meets all entry criteria.

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"Turkey is a particular place that would benefit Europe's energy future. That would not have been given the priority and prominence it deserves five years ago," he said.

Opening the doors of the EU to Turkey would be a "significant bridge to the Islamic world", Miliband said.

"Turkey has a combination of a Muslim majority population and a proud democratic heritage. I think you can balance those things," he added.

Miliband, however, said Turkey needed to speed up its EU reforms. "Everyone wants to see Turkey making strides towards reforms," he said.

"But equally we want to see a European Union that has got the right orientation and outlook, an open EU, that is something we have to work on specially at a time of economic downturn."

"There have been significant changes if you look at the last 30 years. I think there is a new Turkey being built. I think that the direction is clear," he said.

Miliband said another strong selling point of Turkey's EU entry is its vibrant market economy. Economic activity is seen contracting by five percent this year due to the effects of the global economic crisis, compared to average growth of 7 percent between 2002 and 2007. The economy is expected to expand in 2010.

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"Turkey will bring significant economic dynamism into the bloc. I think the debate of the Turkish economy will change in the next few years," he said.

Miliband, who arrived Tuesday in the Turkish capital of Ankara to hold talks focused on the country's European Union membership bid, met with Turkey's Chief Negotiator for EU talks Egemen Bagis.

He met Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolgu on Wednesday, and is also scheduled to meet Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later in the day.

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Photo: Reuters

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