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Merkel does not see EU expanding membership talks with Turkey

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not expect the European Union to open negotiations on new policy areas with Turkey in its talks to join the bloc, her spokesman said on Wednesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference after talks with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Membership talks have progressed only slowly since they began in 2005 but Merkel has said the EU, which needs Turkey to help tackle the migrant crisis, must engage with Ankara despite concern about its response to a failed coup in July.

Bild newspaper ran a story under a headline that said Merkel opposed further EU talks with the fellow NATO member and reported that this meant discussions were effectively over.

However, government spokesman Steffen Seibert made clear there was no new stance.

“Chancellor Merkel’s position on the accession talks has not changed,” he told reporters when asked about the article.

“The EU and Turkey have been negotiating for years without determining the result in advance. Under the current circumstances, the opening of further negotiating chapters is not conceivable.”

Neither Ankara nor the EU expect Turkey to be in a position to join the EU for many years to come. Only one of 35 “chapters”, or policy areas where Turkey must adopt EU rules, has so far been concluded. Discussions have begun on 15 more chapters while the rest have not yet been taken up.

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The European Parliament passed a non-binding motion last week urging the Commission and national governments to call a temporary halt to membership talks with Turkey due to Ankara’s “disproportionate” response to July’s failed coup.

Authorities have detained or dismissed more than 125,000 people - including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists and Kurdish leaders - over alleged backing for the coup attempt.

However, EU governments are unlikely to change course. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said he had not “closed the book” on the EU but said Ankara had other options with other partners.

EU leaders are due to discuss Turkey again when they meet in Brussels at a summit on Dec. 15-16. Germany and other EU states have expressed concern about Erdogan’s crackdown which critics say is an attempt to crush dissent.

Erdogan has threatened to scrap a deal struck this year under which Turkey would help stop migrants going to Europe in return for visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens. Brussels also agreed to reinvigorate accession talks.

A conservative parliamentary source said Merkel had re-stated her position at a meeting of lawmakers when asked about what they should say to voters in their constituencies.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Andreas Rinke, Andrea Shalal and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Tom Heneghan