Chapter 22 on regional policy and the coordination of structural instruments was opened at the Intergovernmental Accession Conference on Tuesday, which was attended by Chief EU Negotiator Egemen Bağış, Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle and EU term president and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.
France has already conveyed to Turkey that it will not lift its veto on the remaining four chapters suspended by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 until after the European Parliament elections that will be held in June of next year.
Bağış, accompanied by Yılmaz, made it clear that he was content with the opening of Chapter 22 after almost three-and-a-half years but strongly criticized the EU for its position on the military coup in Egypt two days after Mohammed Morsi, the first and only democratically elected president in Egyptian history, appeared in court for the first time following his removal from office in early July.
Unlike many of the meetings with the EU in Brussels, the opening of the chapter was a cause for celebration on Monday, with Bağış using the opportunity on several occasions to thank the EU and make jokes.
When Füle said the EU and Turkey needed more engagement, Bağış quipped that Turkey not only wanted "engagement" but also "marriage," causing a ripple of laughter in the room.
He also praised the EU Commission for the progress report it released on Oct. 16 on Turkey, saying, "I have to admit this was one of the most objective and motivating progress reports of the past decade."
Bağış also announced that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit Brussels either in December or January, the first visit since 2009. The EU minister also underlined that they were very close to reaching an agreement on visa liberalization, which will eventually lead to visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.
Turkey started accession talks in October 2005, but has only been able to close one chapter temporarily out of 35 in eight years and opened 14. Croatia, which began membership talks on the same day as Turkey, became the 28th member of the club on July 1. Almost half of the chapters were frozen by Greek Cypriots and France.
The EU side was showered with questions on Chapters 23 and 24, dealing with fundamental rights and freedoms, that were blocked unilaterally by Greek Cypriots in 2009. Bağış said he was looking forward to the opening of many chapters, but in particular 23 and 24, on which Turkey was constantly being criticized by the EU.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül also stated that after a three-year break, the opening of a new chapter was significant. “Our target is to successfully complete full membership negotiations,” said Gül.
Noting that the other chapters should also be opened, Gül said EU members should not block Turkey's path to full membership.
“After all, political decisions will be taken in the future; in this sense Norway is a good example. Maybe after completing the negotiation talks, Turkish people will also say 'no' to the EU with a referendum just like they did in Norway and France. We should not debate this now. These issues should not be discussed today. Today's topic is to successfully complete the negotiations,” said Gül.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement on Tuesday welcoming the opening of a new chapter with the EU.
The statement said the opening of the chapter was an important first step in the revitalization of the negotiation process after three years.
“In order to register progress in our accession negotiations, our primary expectation is that the blocks on chapters that have been introduced with political considerations will also be lifted immediately and thereby all other chapters be opened to negotiations,” added the statement.
Democracy being raped but EU silent
Bağış used extremely strong words on the EU's silence on the military coup in Egypt. Stressing that "democracy is being raped in Egypt," Bağış said he was often confronted by questions from Turkish citizens as to why Brussels kept its lips sealed on Egypt when one of its dearest principles, "democracy," was being demolished by the military junta. "Everywhere I go, people ask me how come your European colleagues are not raising their voices louder when the most important value for the EU, i.e., democracy, is being raped in Egypt. When an elected president is still in prison, the dictator of the last four decades is freed by the military junta. This is unacceptable," said Bağış, adding that he was aware of the fact that it was difficult to get a common position among 28 members.
Bağış was also very tough on Syria and criticized the lack of strong and substantial action from Europe. He underlined that the agreement on the destruction of Syrian capabilities to produce chemical weapons had given a "very wrong message to the bloody dictator in Damascus."
"It has been a very wrong message to the bloody dictator in Damascus and to other dictators in the region. It gives the message that it is OK to kill your own people even if you kill hundreds of thousands as long as you do not use chemical weapons. This is a wrong message. Not only Turkey but also many other countries are very upset that the world is looking the other way to the casualties," he said.