Ankara to EU: Deeper strategic ties depend on progress in negotiations
Turkey's growing clout in the international arena has prompted the European Union to boost its strategic dialogue with the candidate country. Yet, Ankara, highly irritated at the slow pace of ongoing membership negotiations, has said deepening strategic dialogue between Turkey and the 27-nation bloc won't happen as long as the current course of affairs on the pace of negotiations continues. Amid debates over whether Turkey has shifted its focus away from the West, Ankara has urged Brussels to treat Turkey's EU membership process with consistency, complaining of a number of negotiation chapters that cannot be opened due to objections raised on political, not technical, grounds. In Brussels on Saturday, an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers hosted by Belgium, the EU's current president, was the setting for an offer by EU foreign ministers to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to develop a "strategic dialogue" – a clear sign of recognition of Turkey's growing role on the world scene. "The purpose of today's debate is … to recognize that as well as a candidate country, Turkey is a partner with us in many issues around the world," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said as she arrived for the meeting. Davutoglu told a press conference following the meeting that during talks with his counterparts, he had clearly expressed Ankara's dissatisfaction with the speed of negotiations. "Turkey will never accept any replacement or any alternative to the accession process," Davutoglu said, referring to the EU offer to develop a "strategic dialogue" on key world issues independent of talks on joining the bloc. "We have been involved in intense activity in the Middle East, with mediation between Israel and Syria, in Lebanon and Iraq, between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, and in the Caucasus. We would like to continue this activity – as an EU candidate country that holds accession negotiations – in parallel and together with the EU. But developments in our neighborhood don't let us wait." He added, "We don't approve of the EU's use of the term strategic partner – which it also uses for China and Brazil – for us, albeit in a positive sense," he said. No concrete decisions or specific steps for future work emerged from Saturday's meeting; however, there was talk of fears that the "strategic dialogue" offer could be seen as de facto EU membership for Ankara without it having to meet the tough guidelines to join. Ashton, however, played down such concerns after the meeting. "It is not a way of putting Turkey in the room as the 28th member without them going through the process," she said. "It is about, in the areas where we work together, how we more effectively ensure that we are in dialogue and that is something we are looking at very carefully." Italy's secretary of state, Alfredo Mantica, said he wants the EU in future to invite Turkey to EU summits and high-level political meetings, while the ministers agreed that the discussion had succeeded in putting the tensions of the accession issue aside in order to focus on cooperation.