While the EU is preparing to hold a joint refugee summit with Turkey on Nov. 29 in Brussels to conclude ongoing talks about its refugee action plan, diplomatic sources have said that an EU delegation will visit Ankara on Dec. 10-11 to discuss the opening benchmarks for Chapter 23 on judicial and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 on justice, security and freedoms.
The EU has opened 14 of the 35 negotiating chapters and provisionally closed only one even though Ankara has continued the negotiation process with the EU for 10 years. Chapter 22, which covers regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, was the last chapter opened in November 2013. The EU is planning to open Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policies in December to end a two-year hiatus.Turkey has completed the screening process, which is the first stage of the accession process, for all negotiation chapters on Oct. 13, 2006. However, the benchmarks associated with the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 were never delivered to Ankara and the EU's stance raises concerns regarding the transparency of the accession process. In the European Commission's 2015 Turkey Progress Report it raised concerns about judicial and fundamental rights and said that there has been a regression in these areas. This notwithstanding, the Turkish government constantly asks the EU to open these vital chapters for negotiations to restore the problematic areas together. In the latest progress report the European Commission suggests the restoration of all legal guarantees to ensure full respect for the independence of the judiciary in practice, establish a track record of investigations and ensure full respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the freedom of expression. Sources believe that discussions over the opening benchmarks for Chapter 23 and 24 will be useful to define the necessary reforms to solve these problems.
Despite efforts from Turkey for opening Chapters 23 and 24, talks have stagnated for a couple of years because of the blockage by Greek Cyprus. The ongoing reunification talks on Cyprus, however, have increased hopes for a permanent solution on the divided island. Diplomatic sources indicated that there is a high possibility of holding a referendum on Cyprus in March 2016 if the talks continue as they have. A permanent solution to the 40-year division of Cyprus could be a game changer for Turkey's EU bid via lifting the blockage of opening chapters. The negotiations on eight chapters cannot be opened at present due to a European Council decision of December 2006. In 2009 Greek Cyprus said that it would block the opening of six chapters.