Turkey doesn't see positive steps with EU while Austria has presidency: minister

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey does not believe positive steps will be taken with the European Union while Austria holds the presidency of the bloc this year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, reflecting tensions between Ankara and Vienna.

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Austria will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU in July, giving it an important say in setting the agenda at the many meetings between member states. It has said it plans to use its presidency to shift toward preventing further waves of migrant arrivals.

Relations between Turkey and Austria have been strained in recent months over a host of issues, including Vienna’s stance toward migrants and its opposition to Ankara’s technically ongoing, but effectively all but collapsed, EU membership bid.

“I don’t think there will be positive steps taken during Austria’s term presidency. We spoke at length with the Austrian foreign minister, but unfortunately, the current chancellor is even more extreme than the far-right party,” Cavusoglu told broadcaster NTV.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives are in a coalition government with the anti-Islam Freedom Party, making Austria the only western European country to have a far-right party in government. Both parties believe the European Union should break off Turkish accession talks.

In the interview, Cavusoglu said he did not expect positive steps on opening new chapters, or policy areas, in Turkey’s accession bid in the coming term, but added that the issue of visa liberalization and updating Turkey’s Customs Union agreement with the bloc would be discussed with EU officials.

Turkey began talks to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. While a series of factors slowed negotiations, notably the Cyprus issue and resistance in Germany and France to Turkish membership, since 2016 membership talks have all but collapsed.

EU ministers said this week Brussels could not open any more chapters or modernize the EU-Turkey customs union due to Ankara’s failure to meet European standards in various areas.

This prompted an angry response from Ankara, which says EU membership remains a strategic goal.

“There are areas where we can work together, but opening chapters or not is a political issue. We expect better cooperation in the next term, once Austria’s presidency is over,” Cavusoglu told NTV. Romania takes the helm next.

He also said Ankara hoped a 3 billion euro ($3.49 billion) aid payment to Turkey would be delivered without delay, after EU member states approved the payment during a summit in Brussels.

Turkey, which hosts some 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has criticized the EU for failing to provide it with the financial aid agreed upon in a 2016 migrant deal in which Turkey cut the passage of migrants into the bloc to a trickle.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler and Alison Williams