EU opens new phase in Turkey membership bid talks

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Image caption,
So far there has been little progress in Turkey's EU negotiations

The EU has opened a new chapter in Turkey's EU membership talks, covering budget contributions to the bloc.

By moving on with the negotiations the EU is delivering on a pledge it made to Turkey in March, said Slovakia - the country now set to manage EU affairs.

Turkey's bid to join the EU is highly controversial and featured prominently in the UK's EU referendum campaign.

Turkey demanded progress on its bid in return for taking back migrants who want to seek asylum in the EU.

Under the March deal, Turkey was also promised visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen area, if it complied with a series of demands.

Chapter 33 on financial and budgetary provisions is the 16th chapter to be opened with Turkey, out of a total of 35.

But five chapters in Turkey's talks are still blocked because of a dispute between the governments in Ankara and Cyprus.

Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, whose Greek Cypriot leaders demand an end to Turkish control in the island's north.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Migrants arriving in Lesbos, Greece: Turkey's co-operation has now limited the daily influx

There is widespread concern in the EU about the possibility of a future influx of Turkish workers. As a large, mainly Muslim country Turkey would significantly change the character of the EU.

The Leave campaign in the UK referendum warned that the EU was preparing for Turkey to join. The Remain camp however argued that Turkish membership was only a distant prospect and might never happen.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that Turkey had met "almost all" of the criteria demanded by the EU under the March deal so, he argued, the EU should now fulfil the visa liberalisation pledge. It would mean Turks getting visa-free travel to most of Europe.

Five benchmarks set by EU for Turkey:

  • Corruption: Turkey must pass measures to prevent corruption, in line with EU recommendations
  • Data protection: It must align national legislation on personal data protection with EU standards
  • Europol: An agreement is to be concluded with the continent's law enforcement agency
  • Judicial co-operation: It must work with all EU members on criminal matters
  • Legislation on terrorism: Turkey is required to bring its terror laws in line with European standards

Before the March deal Greece was overwhelmed by the challenge of housing migrants and refugees arriving by boat from Turkey.

The onward movement of migrants - many of them fleeing the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - put severe strains on the EU, as most of them wanted to settle in Germany.

But since the deal was struck the numbers crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece have dropped dramatically.