EU to push on with Turkey’s membership bid

European Commission calls on EU governments to make good on a June pledge to restart Turkey's entry talks after a three-year pause.

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Brussels // The European Union sought to push forward with Turkey’s bid to join the bloc, even as it criticised the Turkish government for heavy-handed tactics in stomping out dissent.

The European Commission called on EU governments to make good on a June pledge to restart Turkey’s entry talks after a three-year pause.

Turkey has a “pressing need to develop a truly participatory democracy, able to reach out to all segments of society”, and advancing the entry process would be “an important step,” the commission said in its annual enlargement report.

The stalemate over Turkey reflects the declining appetite in the 28-nation bloc to take in new countries as the debt crisis and recession drive up unemployment and give rise to nationalist stirrings, in both rich and poor EU countries.

EU governments have pledged to start talks by January with Serbia, the largest ex-Yugoslav republic, and the instigator of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The commission said today that Serbia’s progress will hinge on continuing to repair ties with Kosovo, its former mostly Muslim province that declared independence in 2008.

EU governments postponed the resumption of talks in June after prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clamped down on peaceful protests in central Istanbul. The commission today decried the “excessive force” against demonstrators.

National representatives will decide on October 22 whether to open talks on aligning Turkey’s regional-aid policies with EU norms, the next step in the entry bid.

The report also criticised Turkey’s legal framework, the judiciary and frequent political intimidation that contribute to curbing freedom of expression. But the commission also welcomed Turkey’s progress on some judicial reforms and the efforts to seek a lasting peace agreement with Kurdish rebels and strengthen the group’s minority rights.

The EE started negotiations with Turkey in 2005 despite scepticism among some of its member states to see a powerful Muslim nation join the bloc. Since then, Turkey’s accession talks have made relatively little progress because of its territorial dispute with EU member Cyprus.

* Bloomberg News with additional reporting by Associated Press