BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Friday the current stand-still in negotiations over Turkey's bid to join the European Union was unsatisfactory and the new year offered an opportunity to tackle outstanding issues with renewed vigour.
Turkey began talks in 2005 but has only completed one of the 35 policy "chapters" every candidate must conclude to join the EU. All but 13 of those chapters are blocked by France, Cyprus and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.
"The membership talks with Turkey have been treading water for too long, the stand-still is unsatisfactory for both sides," Westerwelle told Reuters.
"We should therefore use the new year as an opportunity to give renewed vigour to the rapprochement between Turkey and the EU, and to open new chapters in the negotiations."
The two sides still had a considerable way to go, he said. "We will see where this will ultimately lead us, but we owe Turkey fair and respectful negotiations."
Despite its slow progress and waning domestic support for joining the EU, Ankara has continued to push for full membership of the union and has said it wants to join before 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey.
A diplomatic source said Turkey was gaining increasing importance for Europe.
"Turkey is strong centre of power in an important and difficult region neighbouring Europe," the source said, noting the negotiations with the EU were an importance incentive for reforms. "It is a hub for international energy routes and an attractive market for European companies."
Ankara's EU affairs minister said earlier this week he was hopeful France would unblock talks over EU membership on at least two policy chapters in the coming months ahead of a visit to Turkey by President Francois Hollande.
While Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey's EU candidacy, he has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria, in contrast to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's position that Turkey did not form part of Europe.