ANKARA (Reuters) - The European Union has lost appeal for the Turkish people after years of stagnation in Ankara’s accession talks but a new “positive agenda” launched on Thursday will aim to revive the process, the bloc’s enlargement chief said on Thursday.
Formal entry negotiations began in 2005 but the process has ground to a virtual halt in recent years, blocked by an intractable dispute over the divided island of Cyprus and opposition from core EU members France and Germany.
“The fact of the matter is that we have lost the public support here in Turkey and also in the European Union. It is a reflection of our inability over the last years to open any chapters,” said EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele.
Turkey failed last year to open even one new chapter, or policy area, of the 35 where a candidate country must complete negotiations before it can join the EU. It has only managed to open 13 chapters since talks started, with most of the rest “frozen” by political rows between Ankara and EU capitals.
In a bid to kick-start the flagging negotiations, Fuele and Turkish Minister for European Affairs Egemen Bagis announced the start of a “positive agenda” at a conference in Ankara.
The initiative, which will create “working groups” devoted to individual chapters with the goal of speeding up efforts to align Turkish policy with EU legislation, will not replace the existing process but would support it, Fuele said.
“The positive agenda should bring fresh dynamics and new momentum in our relations. Our aim is to keep the accession process alive ... after a period of stagnation which has been a source of frustration for both sides,” Fuele said.
Bagis said he hoped the initiative would be remembered as a “turning point” in Turkey’s entry into the European bloc.
The working groups will focus on political reforms and closer alignment on chapters covering visas, mobility and migration; energy; trade and the customs union; and counter-terrorism.
Opposition from Cyprus as well as French and German reluctance to admit Turkey, a predominantly Muslim state, remain the main obstacle to Turkish membership.
In its 2011 annual report on countries seeking EU membership, the European Commission criticised Turkey for not doing enough to normalise relations with the Greek Cypriot republic, an EU member.
Turkey has said it will suspend relations with the EU presidency during Cyprus’s six-month tenure starting in July, due to a lack of progress in reunification talks on the island, whose north half was seized by Turkey in 1974 after a Greek-backed coup intended to unite the island with Greece.
Pro-EU sentiment in Turkey has waned as their country has stabilised democracy and become one of the world’s most vibrant economies. Turks have acquired a new sense of confidence in contrast with the malaise plaguing the debt-ridden EU.
About half of Turkey’s trade is with the EU and more than 75 percent of foreign direct investment comes from the bloc.
But a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund think-tank found a majority of Turks deemed the Middle East more important to the country’s economic interests and security than the EU.
Editing by Mark Heinrich