Merkel Says Turkey’s EU Talks Can Advance

HANOVER, Germany (AFP)–German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said the European Union could open two more chapters of membership talks with Turkey by July, but warned that the country must open its ports to Cyprus. "Under the German presidency of the EU, two more chapters could probably be opened if things go well," she said at a joint press conference here with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "We are looking ahead but the outcome of this process remains open," she said, adding that it is "important that Turkey normalizes ties with Cyprus." Erdogan reportedly relayed to Merkel during the meeting Ankara’s discomfort with not having been invited to the 50th birthday celebrations for the EU in Berlin, as well as Merkel’s recent assertions that the "EU’s foundation is based on Christianity." Erdogan also reportedly brought up the subject of a bill being prepared which would bring about fines for people denying the so-called Armenian genocide. In response to Erdogan’s complaints, Merkel brought up the topic of EU expectations from Ankara in regards to Cyprus, and harmony with protocols which Ankara had previously promised to follow. Erdogan struck a conciliatory note after having reproached Germany in the press for failing to do enough to advance Turkey’s troubled bid to join the EU on the eve of his meeting here with Merkel. "One cannot attack a lady. We are on a long, narrow road and we have to be patient." Erdogan added however that he felt the criticism he had voiced in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel was "legitimate". The magazine quoted him as saying: "Seriously, I expected more from Germany. We would like a clear idea of a date, a roadmap, a calendar for negotiations." The European Union re-launched membership talks with Turkey at the end of March after a long hiatus caused by Ankara’s refusal to respect its trade obligations to Cyprus under a customs agreement with the EU. Turkey refuses to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic until the EU lives up to its pledge to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot section in the north of the Mediterranean island, which is recognized only by Ankara. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats oppose Turkish membership of the EU and would prefer instead that the secular Islamic nation become a "privileged partner" of the 27-member bloc. But she has agreed to support the EU’s ongoing accession negotiations with Ankara as part of her government’s coalition agreement with the center-left Social Democrats. Merkel and Erdogan met before opening the Hanover Trade Fair where Turkey is this year’s guest nation.

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