June 24, 2013 / 5:20 PM / 4 years ago

Germany's Merkel calls on Turkey to remove hurdles to EU accession

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Turkey to clear the way for the opening of further chapters in European Union membership negotiations as tensions between the two countries simmer after Berlin criticized Ankara’s crackdown on protestors.

The EU had planned to revive Turkey’s EU ambitions on Wednesday by opening a new chapter in its EU membership talks but Germany, supported by several other EU states, is blocking the plan over Turkey’s handling of anti-government protests.

“We must make progress on the issue of the Ankara Protocol - that is actually the most enduring barrier,” Merkel said at the Turkish-German Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, adding that all other issues could be clarified “at some point”.

Turkey has never ratified the protocol, which requires it to have open trading relationships with all EU states, including Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize because it occupies the northern part of the divided island.

Turkey’s reluctance to implement the Ankara Protocol has led to the EU blocking some chapters, or policy areas, in the accession process.

Merkel said the German government would stick to the EU agreement on accession negotiations, adding: “But we also expect progress in the areas we have named.”

At the weekend German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said tensions with Ankara were undeniable after he met his Turkish counterpart on Saturday amid a row over Berlin’s criticism of a crackdown on protesters in Turkey and its reluctance to see Turkey join the EU.

On Monday Germany proposed postponing a new round of European Union membership talks with Turkey by about four months to signal EU displeasure at Ankara’s handling of the protests.

Speaking about the Turkish government’s forceful reaction to the unrest, Merkel said: “We cannot ignore what is happening.”

Merkel said she did not always share the same opinions as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but maintained a continual dialogue with him.

She added that the development of a civil society in Turkey should not be considered a danger but rather as an opportunity.

Merkel agreed to look into giving Turkish business people longer visas.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Michelle Martin; editing by Ron Askew

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