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Turkey expected to open new EU accession chapter next month - minister

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s EU minister said on Thursday the latest chapter in his country’s long-stalled EU membership bid would be opened in mid-December, following a summit this weekend at which Europe aims to finalise a deal with Turkey on migration.

The European Union is seeking Turkey’s help in handling its worst migrant crisis since World War Two, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa travelling to Europe, many through Turkey.

Speaking in Ankara, Volkan Bozkir said that Chapter 17 -- on economy and monetary policy -- would be opened on December 14-15. It would be the first since 2013, after accession efforts largely stalled amidst bitter disagreements between Europe and Turkey over issues such as the rule of law and human rights.

“We will not content ourselves with this chapter only, we will start working together to open five to six more chapters in 2016,” Bozkir added.

Countries wanting to join the EU must achieve criteria across a raft of sectors, divided into chapters, which are opened and then closed once completed.

Major European states have in the past expressed strong reservations about the entry of Turkey, with a population approaching 80 million. Turkish officials have argued it would be a bridge to the Middle East.

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A spokesman for the European Commission said the opening of chapters would be a matter for Sunday’s summit and declined to comment further on the Turkish remarks.

The Commission has previously made the opening of Chapter 17 an element of its Action Plan agreed in principle with Turkey last month and expected to be finalised on Sunday.

The deal could also see visa-free travel extended to Turkish citizens as early as next year, as well as the establishment of twice yearly summits with Turkey, according to an EU diplomat.

If the deal is signed, EU foreign ministers would formally start the ball rolling on chapter 17 at a meeting on Dec. 14.

The decision to open the chapter on economic and monetary policy comes at a time of concern from investors over whether the programme of Turkey’s new government -- announced this week -- will curtail central bank independence.

The lira weakened on the back of market nervousness on Thursday, prompting the new economy czar, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, to insist the central bank’s hands would not be tied.

Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Ralph Boulton