BRUSSELS Turkey is likely to take a long-awaited step on its path towards European Union entry next month, EU officials said on Monday, after France eased its opposition to Ankara's accession talks.
Turkey's EU talks have ground to a halt in recent years, in part because of opposition from France, as well as because of an intractable dispute between Ankara and Cyprus.
But relations with France have improved since the arrival of President Francois Hollande last year, and Paris has agreed to drop its opposition to discussing Ankara's preparations in some policy areas.
Ireland's foreign minister said EU governments were likely to start talks with Turkey on issues related to regional policy - one of the 35 "chapters" an EU candidate has to complete before it is ready to become a member - in June. Turkey has so far completed talks in only one of the policy areas.
"It is a sign of the continued commitment of both sides to moving the accession process forward," Eamon Gilmore told a news conference in Brussels. Ireland holds the rotating presidency of the EU until July and oversees many policy debates in the bloc.
The regional policy chapter covers issues related to how a country spends EU aid in poorer regions.
Many EU governments believe keeping Turkey on the EU path is important because of Ankara's rising clout as a powerbroker in the Middle East and its growing economic weight. France, and Germany, have been reluctant because of Turkey's relative size and potential influence in the bloc.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in February she favored new talks to revive Turkey's stalled EU membership bid.
Despite 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.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Alison Williams)