ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey is showing renewed interest in reviving its stalled bid to join the European Union, now that one of its key opponents is no longer the president of France.
Turkey began its EU accession negotiations in 2005 but made little progress in its candidacy, thanks to a dispute with EU-member Cyprus and opposition from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Turkey's membership. Sarkozy argued that the predominantly Muslim country is not a part of Europe and wanted Turkey to accept some kind of a special partnership with the EU instead of full membership — an offer Turkey rejected.
Now that Socialist Francois Hollande has replaced the conservative Sarkozy as France's president, Turkey hopes he will be more sympathetic to the candidacy of a country that has one of the world's fastest growing economies and is becoming a regional diplomatic player.
"With the coming to power of Mr. Francois Hollande, we are all hoping that a new course in the Turkish-EU relations will gain momentum," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week, during a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Little is known about Hollande's stand regarding Turkey's EU membership, apart from a comment he made on France-2 television on April 12 during his campaign for the presidency. During it, he said France has long accepted the principle of Turkish accession to the EU but that major conditions have not been met and that may not happen for several years to come.
On Thursday, Turkey and the EU are to open talks aimed at bringing Turkey's membership bid back on track, and the Turkish government announced this week that its Parliament will soon vote on a series of draft laws designed to help advance its bid.
The EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele is scheduled will visit Ankara, the capital, to announce the start of those informal technical discussions with Turkey on eight policy areas. The goal is to bring Turkey closer to joining the 27-member bloc when some member states' objections to Turkey's accession are lifted.
Fuele's office said Wednesday the new discussions also will aim to bring Turkish legislation closer to that of the EU, and to forge closer cooperation with Turkey in foreign affairs, including issues such as the uprising in Syria.
In a sign that Turkey is happy to resurrect the talks, its government this week sent a set of draft bills geared toward the EU bid to Parliament, including measures to improve human rights in the country.
When negotiations began seven years ago, Turkey was seen as a country whose dynamic population would enrich the EU culturally and economically, and would serve as a bridge to the Muslim world. But economic troubles in Europe and a lack of enthusiasm for the EU to expand further resulted in mounting opposition to Turkey's bid. Frustrated, Turkey slowed down reforms and concentrated efforts toward carving out a leadership role in the Middle East.
Only one out of some three-dozen policy areas, or chapters, in EU membership negotiations has been concluded so far. Eight policy issues have been frozen by the bloc over Turkey's refusal to allow ships and planes from the divided island of Cyprus to enter its ports and airspace. France has held up Turkey's membership negotiations in five policy areas.
"Turkey is changing, the EU is changing and the new Europe cannot be without Turkey," Egemen Bagis, the Turkish minister in charge of EU affairs said this week. "Until now, all countries that have started negotiations with the EU have become full members. Turkey will not be the first exception."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul is expected to hold talks with Hollande during a NATO summit in Chicago next week, Turkish officials said.
Associated Press Writer Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed.