Factbox: Turkey's collapsing EU membership bid

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would seek an end to Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union.

FILE PHOTO: European Union (L) and Turkish flags fly outside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

Here is a timeline of the most significant dates in Turkey’s EU accession progress:

* 1987 - Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance, applies to join the EU’s forerunner, the European Economic Community.

* 1997 - Ankara is declared eligible to start talks, after strong support from Britain, Italy and Sweden. They see the addition of a dynamic economy and a powerful player in Middle East politics as a benefit for the EU.

France, Germany and Austria are wary of admitting Turkey, concerned about the economic and cultural challenges of integrating a large, Muslim nation of 80 million people into the EU.

* 2002 - Turkey abolishes the death penalty, a basic condition for joining the European Union. Turkey’s Islamist-rooted AK Party wins a general election and vows to push for EU membership.

* March 2003 - Tayyip Erdogan becomes prime minister and later says that Turkey “is very much ready to be part of the European Union family.”

* October 2005 - Formal EU accession negotiations begin.

* 2010 - Turkey’s membership bid stalls over issues including the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member, which Turkey invaded in 1974. Pushed by Cyprus and France, EU capitals block the opening of new negotiating areas, or chapters.

* 2013/2014 - Erdogan’ purges thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors over a corruption scandal he says was engineered by political enemies.

* August 2014 - Erdogan is elected to the post of president which he plans to transform from a largely ceremonial post to a powerful executive office.

* October 2014 - The European Commission, the EU executive that oversees EU accession talks, submits its most critical annual report yet, warning of “serious doubts” about judicial independence.

* March 2016 - The European Union and Turkey agree to revive accession talks, as well as negotiations over visa-free travel for Turks to the bloc, as part of a broader accord to halt record flows of Syrian refugees to Europe in return for financial aid for Ankara.

* July 15, 2016 - A faction of the military tries to overthrow Erdogan, prompting international condemnation, including from the European Union.

But relations with Brussels quickly begin to sour as Turkey purges suspected coup plotters on a huge scale. The Council of Europe rights body, of which Turkey is a member, says the purge is unconstitutional.

* March 2017 - Erdogan accuses Germany of “fascist actions” reminiscent of Nazi times after being stopped from holding political rallies in the country as he seeks support among the 1.5 million Turkish citizens there ahead of an April referendum.

A narrow victory in the referendum gives Erdogan sweeping new powers that the European Union fears cements a new system of authoritarian rule and makes EU membership ever more distant.

* April 2017 - The European Parliament calls for a formal suspension of Turkey’s EU membership bid, which is now effectively frozen.

EU foreign ministers hold talks with Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu in Malta. They say they are against annulling Turkey’s decade-long bid for EU membership.

Privately, however, ministers raise the possibility of a new, looser agreement with Turkey on free trade, immigration and counter-terrorism. The European Union is Turkey’s biggest foreign investor and biggest trading partner.

* Sept. 3, 2017 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will seek an end to Turkey’s membership talks, in an apparent shift of position during a televised debate weeks before a German election.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Ralph Boulton