Turkey is keeping expectations for its stalled European Union membership talks low in 2012 as Denmark has started presiding over the 27-member club but pledges to keep making reforms regardless of the pace of accession negotiations.
Turkey's European Union Minister Egemen Bağış told the Anatolia news agency that the previous year was not an easy one with respect to the membership talks, and he predicted that 2012 will also not be promising.
Bağış, who is also Turkey's chief EU negotiator, blamed the 27-nation bloc for deadlock in membership talks and accused it of creating political obstacles that prevented both sides from opening new chapters. He said although Turkey had not made great progress in talks, it said Turkey had taken significant steps on some important issues such as the law of obligations, the Turkish commercial code, the environment, agriculture and food security in the previous year.
Bağış also drew parallels between the re-election of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and a determination to draft a new constitution as promised.
The EU minister was sure that Turkey will witness an important process in the writing of a new civil, transparent constitution this year.
He predicted that 2012 will be a tough year for Turkey, complaining about French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who he claimed has already been using Turkey's EU accession talks as a “political tool” in upcoming presidential elections in France slated for April this year.
Bağış also drew a bleak picture with respect to the second half of 2012 regarding Turkey's EU membership talks.
Progress with the accession negotiations could further be hampered when Greek Cyprus, which has managed to freeze key parts of Turkey's accession talks with the EU because of the ongoing conflict, takes over the presidency of the European Union for six months in the second half of this year. Negotiations already stalled will effectively be frozen.
Ankara argues that under the EU's own treaties, Greek Cyprus with its unsettled territorial questions should never have been allowed in the EU, let alone with a mandate to represent the whole of the island.
“Unfortunately, we will face a term presidency of a half state," Bağış said, adding that its term presidency will cause some problems in Turkey's EU bid, without elaborating. But he also urged patience and said Turkey must remain ambitious in its drive toward becoming a European Union member state.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already warned that his country will not sit at the table with Greek Cyprus if it assumes the European Union's presidency before a deal reunifying the ethnically split island is reached.
Turkey previously warned that Turkey will freeze its relations with the 27-nation bloc if Greek Cyprus takes over its rotating presidency in July 2012. Turkey does not recognize the divided island nation as a sovereign nation.
Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north in 1974 when Turkey intervened after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only the Greek section is part of the EU.
Asked whether a new chapter could be opened during Denmark's rotating EU term presidency, Bağış said Turkey would welcome the opening of any chapter considering the current conditions, but he was pessimistic, pointing to the fact that the bloc is in an economic quagmire.
"We currently attach importance to reforms," he said, implying that Turkey will not be deterred from making reforms in the face of stalled membership talks.
A rising Muslim democracy, Turkey began accession talks with Brussels in 2005, but progress has been painfully slow, hobbled by tensions between Ankara and EU-member Greek Cyprus as well as opposition from France and Germany.
Bağış confidently said the EU needs Turkey in several areas, recalling that the candidate country achieved an exponential growth of 8.9 percent in 2010 and nearly 10 percent in 2011. He added that he believes Turkey will be a shining star in Europe after 2013.
The EU minister was upbeat in Turkey's visa facilitation talks with the European Union, saying that some steps have been taken to ease visa procedure for Turkish nationals.