EU seeks to advance Turkey’s bid, ties Serbia to Kosovo dialogue

The European Union sought to push forward with Turkey’s bid to join the bloc, even as it criticized 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, calling the prospect of membership the best way of turning the country into a European-style democracy.

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, the EU’s Brussels-based executive agency, 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.

The EU’s post-Cold War expansion reached an interim climax in July with the arrival of Croatia, once part of Yugoslavia. Croatia’s entry process took eight years. At a similar pace, the next enlargement won’t be until after 2020.

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.

Entry Talks

Further east, Turkey remains the largest and most controversial prospective member. Entry talks that began in 2005 soon stalled when Turkey balked at extending an EU trade accord to cover Cyprus, part of which has been occupied by the Turkish army since 1974.

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 Oct. 22 whether to open talks on aligning Turkey’s regional-aid policies with EU norms, the next step in the entry bid. The commission then wants to quickly start talks on Turkey’s justice system and civil liberties.

The commission also issued opinions on the following countries:

–Albania. The commission urged upgrading Albania to a “candidate country,” as long as it continues to crack down on organized crime and corruption. EU leaders will decide on the recommendation, an initial step to membership, at a summit in December.

Civil Rights

–Montenegro. The commission cited political and economic advances in Montenegro, the only Balkan country now negotiating to join. The commission moved toward starting talks on Montenegro’s justice system and civil rights, which are critical for its EU aspirations.

–Republic of Macedonia. The commission appealed for the fifth straight year for EU governments to start entry talks, a move which has been blocked by neighboring Greece because of its assertion that the country’s name implies a claim on the historic Greek province of Macedonia.

–Bosnia-Herzegovina. Divisions between the Serbian and Muslim-Croat provinces deprive the country patched together during the Yugoslav wars of a “shared vision” of its political future, the commission said. Only “limited progress” has been made in moving toward a western-style democracy.

Trade Accord

–Kosovo. The former Serbian province is making progress toward starting negotiations on a political and trade accord with the EU, known as a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The commission called on Kosovo to build on the “considerable momentum” it has gained by taking part in EU-brokered reconciliation talks with Serbia.

–Iceland. The commission said it is open to restarting entry talks if and when Iceland decides to re-embrace the EU. The new government in Reykjavik put the membership bid on hold after taking office in May.