European Union has opened a new chapter on economic policy in Turkey's ongoing accession talks, bringing the country a step closer to full membership of the 28-nation bloc.
Chapter 17, which aims at bringing Turkey in line with EU’s economic and monetary policy and guaranteeing independence of the central bank, is the first chapter to be opened in two years and raises the total number of chapters opened so far in the accession talks to 15 out of 35.
“Clearly, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to become a full EU member,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told a news conference in Brussels on Monday.
"[Chapter] 17 is a significant one because it is about price stability, micro-financial stability; it’s about stable sustainable [and] balanced growth. My government is committed to solidifying the central bank independency," Simsek said.
"The quality of institutions is critical to long-term prosperity. That’s why EU accession is important through the process. We are committed to improving [the] quality of institutions. This chapter sends these strong messages - we are committed," he added.
The opening of chapter 17 comes after EU heads of government met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Nov.29 in Brussels where they agreed Turkey would stem the flow of refugees coming into Europe in exchange for visa freedom and re-energizing the accession process.
"European Union needs Turkey as a strategic partner in number of international areas such as migration, terrorism, energy [and] trade," Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in remarks made alongside his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkir, Simsek, and European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn.
"I am confident we can achieve further progress on opening other chapters; to sustain such a new dynamic in EU-Turkey relations will be important," Hahn said.
Bozkir said that the swift opening of chapter 15 on energy, chapter 23 and 24 on judicial and fundamental rights, chapter 26 on education, and chapter 31 on foreign, security and defense policy was "a must".
The Cyprus issue remains a major obstacle to Turkey’s EU accession plans, as several chapters, including the chapter on energy and judicial rights, are blocked by the Greek Cypriot administration.
"We must overcome critical obstacles that have been blocking accession process; we hope other chapters will open swiftly and [that the] negotiation process turns to [its] natural course," Cavusoglu said.
"Positive Turkish-EU relationship is essential. It is essential not just for the two parties but [for] the region as a whole," he added.
Turkey's accession to serve EU interests: UK minister
Turkey’s EU accession will serve the bloc’s economic and strategic interests, U.K.'s Minister for Europe David Lidington said Monday.
In remarks made at The House of Lords in response to a query from The European Union Select Committee about the latest developments between Turkey and EU regarding the accession talks, Lidington said: "Any decision involving enlargement have to be taken by unanimity at council level."
“We have argued for a long time that we need to make progress with the Turkish accession talks. There are good reasons for seeking to submit Turkey in a Euro Atlantic alignment. Very much I think in our economic and strategic interests, we should do that."
The minister said that the migration crises, more than the events in Syria, had prompted and accelerated the development of ties between Turkey and EU.
"More the migration crisis than the events in Syria that has accelerated the development of relationship between EU and Turkey," Lidington said.
He also emphasized Turkey's importance as a neighbor.
"She has NATO airbase inside her territory. She has been part of the coalition against Daesh for a long period of time and it’s looking after two-and-a-half million refugees and displaced people from inside Syria. So Turkey is an essential partner," Lidington said.
Faced with the worst migrant crisis since World War II, the EU is in the process of negotiating with Turkey on a refugee action plan.
The 28-nation bloc has offered Turkey funds to reduce the flow of asylum seekers coming into Europe in exchange for easier visa travel rules for Turkish citizens.
Turkey has spent about $8.5 billion since 2011 supporting more than two million Syrian refugees in the country.