Explaining the EU accession process and keeping in touch with the public will contribute to the strengthening of bilateral ties between Brussels and Ankara, the head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Christian Berger, noted on Friday.
Berger told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he is trying to visit all 81 provinces of Turkey to touch the hearts of people and promote the EU. "Until now, I have only visited 35 provinces out of 81 during two-and-a-half years. Yet, I will continue my visits as much as I can," he said. Noting that there was much misinformation about the bloc in Turkey two years ago, Berger emphasized that he realizes the importance of learning what people think about the EU and explaining what the EU is to those people by traveling around the country.
Pointing out that wherever he visited, he was welcomed with great hospitality, Berger stressed that the most important thing is to discuss the thorns in relations in a constructive and sincere manner.
Berger said that Turkey offers a very diverse environment from region to region and it is successful protecting this diversity. "This is a characteristic that makes Turkey a European country since the EU also promotes the motto of Union in Diversity. We also want to preserve cultural history as successfully as Turkey," he added.
Touching upon the similarities between the two blocs, Berger indicated that Brussels and Ankara meet on common grounds in the terms of active society and administrations, social welfare, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
In relation to Europe Day on Thursday (May 9), Berger underscored that they have organized Ramadan dinners in 18 provinces of Turkey to bring the European delegation and people together.
Turkey's journey to become a member of the EU has seen numerous ups and downs for 50 years, longer than any other country that has applied for membership in the union. Turkey has always been open to cooperation, doing its part in the negotiations that started in 1963 with the Ankara Agreement although the EU keeps delaying the process.
Despite the recent normalization in ties, EU members have noted that the negotiations have come to a de facto standstill and pointed out their concerns over claims of massive regression in terms of the rule of law, citizens' rights and press freedom in Turkey. For some time now, Ankara has been for the EU to conclude the process either way instead of stalling.
Speaking in a Europe Day event on May 9, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu noted that despite all the political obstacles, Turkey has never given up its pursuit of accession to the EU and continued its legal alignments for EU with resoluteness.
"The full membership of Turkey is very important for Turkey. Undoubtedly, [Turkey's accession] will render the EU more strong and prosperous," Çavuşoğlu said.
Emphasizing that Turkey-EU cooperation is vital for Ankara, he also announced that the process in judicial reform strategy and action plan for human rights nears an end and when it is finalized it will be disclosed by the Minister of Justice and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Highlighting that Ankara will prioritize visa liberalization talks, Çavuşoğlu added that achieving visa liberalization would both bring the people of two blocs closer and contribute to bilateral commerce and common welfare.
The visa liberalization process was launched in December 2013 after eight years of blockage by EU countries since accession talks began with Turkey in 2005. Yet, the process has sluggishly progressed for three years. However, on March 2016, Turkey and the EU signed an agreement to stem the influx of refugees to Europe in exchange for "acceleration of the implementation of the visa liberalization road map."
The deal also foresaw visa requirements for Turkish citizens to be granted at the latest by the end of June 2016 upon the fulfillment of 72 benchmarks by Ankara. Yet, the process was halted by the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) coup attempt in July 2016. Following the lift of the state of emergency in July and recent normalization in EU-Turkey ties, visa liberalization talks gained momentum, with both sides meeting in November to discuss the upcoming process after a long break.