“The negotiation process should be given a chance. This is an open-ended process and the process should be eased. The negotiations should be encouraged,” Prime Minister Yves Leterme was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency at a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The Belgian government supports Turkey’s full membership. This is and will remain our policy,” Leterme said.
Turkey has been negotiating with the EU since 2005 but countries such as France and Germany oppose an eventual full membership, calling for a privileged partnership instead.
Leterme became Belgium’s prime minister in November -- for a second time -- after his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy, was elected as the EU’s first president. He came to Ankara on his first visit abroad since his appointment as prime minister.
Belgium is taking over the EU’s rotating term presidency in the second half of 2010. The entry talks risk coming to a standstill soon after a number of negotiating chapters were frozen: Turkey and the EU could open talks only on two chapters throughout 2009 and the progress is expected to slow down further in the coming years given the small number of chapters left open for negotiations and the level of complexity of the available chapters.
“Belgium sees Turkey’s EU membership bid as very important and hopes the negotiations will result in a positive outcome,” Leterme said. “We will be focusing on this, particularly in the second half of 2010.”
“We have full confidence that Belgium will work in a constructive manner and remain loyal to the [membership] promises made by the EU,” when it takes over the EU presidency, Erdoğan told the same press conference.
Ruling on terror case
Leterme was also asked to comment on a recent Belgian court ruling which declined to designate a Turkish radical leftist group as terrorist despite EU decisions that classify it as terrorist and let six members walk free. Leterme declined to comment, saying a prime minister should not speak about a court ruling, but added that an intergovernmental meeting scheduled for next week will discuss the issue.
Concluding a retrial process which began in May, an appeals court in Brussels ruled last week to acquit three of the defendants and sentenced the remaining three to suspended sentences ranging from two to three years. All defendants, including a main suspect in the 1996 murder of prominent businessman Özdemir Sabancı, are members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU. The court, however, called the defendants members of a “gang.”
The Belgian prime minister also visited İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew before talks with Erdoğan in Ankara. He said at the press conference that his government was pleased with the Turkish government’s efforts to expand freedoms for Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community.