Turkey Solidifies Ties With European Union, Eyes Cooperation On Terrorism

Lizbon Büyükelçiliği 01.07.2010
Amid growing woes about the direction of stalled European Union negotiations with Turkey, Spain, a staunch supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the bloc, was able to deliver the opening of one chapter yesterday, the last day of its six-month-long rotating EU presidency, before handing power over to Belgium. Ministers and senior bureaucrats from the EU and Turkey met on Wednesday in Brussels during an intergovernmental conference marking the opening of the EU chapter on food safety and veterinary standards. The critical move comes at a time when Turkey’s ties with the West are being questioned and follows accusations leveled by the US against the EU for pushing Turkey away. The opening of one more chapter in the negotiations process signals two things: that the EU wants to firmly anchor Turkey to the bloc and that the Turkish side is still willing to continue on the EU path.

Spain pushed hard in last minute diplomacy to secure the opening of at least one chapter for Turkey and cut an eight-week-long consultation with member states to 10 days. Diplomats familiar with the discussions told Today’s Zaman that Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos worked hard to convince Greek Cypriots to give a green light to the opening of another two chapters, but failed to obtain their consent.

“Turkey has completed all technical criteria and Parliament has passed all necessary laws. It was about time we heard positive news from the EU side,” Egemen Bağış, a state minister and Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, told Today’s Zaman en route to Brussels on Wednesday. It took three years for the EU to open the chapter on food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy after the screening process was completed in 2007.

The screening report, which had surveyed the respective regulations and existing structure in food and plant safety, noted then that Turkey “has reached a low level of alignment in the preparation for accession.”

Three years later, in sharp contrast to the screening report, the opening of the chapter confirms all 27-member countries agreed Turkey had passed necessary criteria and obtained critical benchmarks securing the opening of the chapter on food safety, Bağış said. Mehdi Eker, whose Ministry of Agriculture completed all the work required for the chapter opening, sounded upbeat about the process. “With this step, we give the message that the protection of food and plant health for EU countries starts from the most eastern border of Turkey,” he said.

Eker, who accompanied Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu along with Bağış during the ceremony in Brussels, explained that Turkey had taken speedy steps to harmonize Turkish agricultural legislation with that of the EU within the framework of the Third National Program, which maps EU-required reforms. The Turkish Parliament passed the Food Safety Law earlier this month after long debates in Parliament.

The Ministry of Agriculture has spent 170 million euros to bring the structure in line with EU standards. The EU has provided 140 million euros of this amount to finance the projects aimed at upgrading the ministry’s capacity to handle food safety protection. It set up 40 labs across the country to address health concerns for food safety and established the National Food Reference Lab to oversee and coordinate all these labs’ work.

It also set up six animal checkpoint centers across the country and completed preparations of vaccination programs for husbandry. For tracing purposes, Turkey’s 11 million cattle are tagged with ear tags. An animal without an ear tag cannot be transferred from one place to another. The government only allows one route for the transfer of cattle between the Asian and European side: over the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in İstanbul. “We rigorously check records and vaccination papers before allowing any transfer,” Eker said.

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