France to help Turkey join EU as Islamic State fights Kurds in Kobane
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As the West presses Turkey to intervene against the Islamic State (IS) armed group in Syria, France has said it is willing to help Turkey's long-standing bid to join the European Union (EU) and repeated its support for a buffer zone on the Turkey-Syria border.
Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Paris on Friday to discuss security, trade and Turkey’s attempts to join the EU.
Ankara began formal EU accession talks in 2005 but they have made little progress, with some countries, including France, unenthusiastic about the prospect of an overwhelmingly Muslim country joining the bloc.
On Friday Fabius announced that France is ready to ease the process by unblocking two key sections, or chapters, in negotiations on Turkey’s membership of the EU.
To join the EU countries must negotiate various chapters of EU law that they must integrate into national legislation.
Fabius said France was ready to open chapters 23 and 24, which refer to fundamental rights and justice.
While the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has eased up repression of the Kurdish minority and started peace talks with the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised for veering towards authoritarianism recently.
Negotiations resumed late last year but the Turkish government’s handling of a graft scandal and mass anti-government protests raised fresh concerns within the EU.
Erdogan, who has served two terms as prime minister, was elected president in the first round of voting in August and IS’s advances in Syria and Iraq has put Turkey, a Nato member, at the centre of a crisis that has international implications.
A European Commission report published on Wednesday accused Turkey of undermining the independence of judges and freedom of expression over the past year.
But it also said that Turkey, a Nato member, was a strategic ally against Islamic State jihadists and membership talks with Ankara should continue despite concerns over human rights.
Fabius on Friday said the talks must continue in a transparent fashion.
"Turkey is ready to open all negotiation chapters,” Cavusoglu responded.”If France could declare officially that it was not opposed to opening any chapter, that would be perfect, that would be a positive message."
The two met as IS fought with Syrian Kurdish militias in the town of Kobane and the US urged Ankara to do more to help save the key town.
Turkey remains reluctant to send ground troops and is pushing for the creation of a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Fabius repeated France’s support for such a zone
“It is necessary to bring increased civil and humanitarian aid over the border to Syrians living in zones held by the moderate opposition, as per resolution 2165 of the UN Security Council, to allow them to survive,” he said.
“All options must therefore be examined and as the French president told his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday, we support the principle of a safe zone between Syria and Turkey. It will of course require extremely close international coordination in order to put this into place.”
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