Turkey is more than a strategic partner for the EU, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated in an article he wrote for Politico, a prestigious American magazine.
"Economic, political, security and identity-related matters have demonstrated that Turkey is more than a strategic partner for the EU," Çavuşoğlu wrote in the article published on Tuesday. He shared his views on the history of EU-Turkey relations and negotiation chapters.
"Major turning points in recent history, including the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Arab Spring, the global financial crisis and the refugee crisis, have repeatedly proven the strategic importance of the Turkey-EU relationship," the foreign minister said in the article.
Turkey applied for the EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005. But negotiations stalled in 2007 due to objections by the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus as well as opposition from Germany and France.
He said that Turkey-EU relations were overshadowed three times: in the aftermath of a coup in the ‘80s, the exclusion of Turkey from the fifth enlargement wave of the EU in the ‘90s and most recently the 2016 coup bid in Turkey.
Underlining that each time the relationship showed resilience against interruptions and found a way out, Çavuşoğlu said that today Turkey finds itself in a similar unpromising situation.
Çavuşoğlu expressed his strong belief that once again Turkey will manage to come to agreement with the EU to put Turkey's EU process back on track. He said the EU membership process tops Turkey's agenda.
Çavuşoğlu also underlined EU's support for the robust diplomatic efforts of Turkey, particularly for the protection of civilians in Syria.
"In the face of increasing volatilities, Turkey and the EU have much work to do for the security and stability of our Continent and beyond," he added.
He stressed Turkey's meaningful contributions to the EU in the areas of security threats, irregular migration, aging societies, economic dynamism, soft power, social security and energy security.
"By hosting more than 4 million refugees and halting the flow of thousands via the Aegean Sea, Turkey has prevented a major humanitarian crisis in Europe," he said.
On the fight against terrorism, he praised Turkey's position as the leading country among coalition members that fight Daesh on the ground.
Çavuşoğlu called on his colleagues in Brussels and in the EU's national capitals to return to the spirit of the 1999 Helsinki meeting of the European Council in which Turkey became an official candidate and the EU became a serious anchor.
"We should restart the accession negotiations as they form the backbone of our relationship."
He also urged the EU to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel.
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 lifting 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.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had underlined previously in an interview with the Suddeutsche Zeitung daily that there is an ongoing skepticism about a full membership perspective for Turkey.
"The current developments after the local elections do not make it more likely that Turkey will join the European Union," she said, adding that she has always been skeptical about a full membership perspective, but favored ‘special relations' between the EU and Turkey.
However, Merkel also supported the continuation of accession talks in an open-ended way, as this was promised to Turkey in 2005 before her Christian Democrats (CDU) came to power in Germany.
Turkey's EU membership process has long been a divisive issue in German politics, as Social Democrats have backed a full membership perspective but Christian Democrats favored a special partnership with Turkey.
Ahead of next week's European Parliament elections, German conservatives and their lead candidate Manfred Weber launched a campaign against Turkey's EU membership.
Weber is bidding to become the European Commission president after Jean-Claude Juncker, whose term will end in October.
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