EU opens new chapter in Turkey membership talks
The European Union announced on Thursday it has opened a new negotiating chapter with Turkey on its long-stalled bid for membership of the bloc, as part of its refugee and migrant deal with Ankara.
The decision comes just one week after Britain's bitterly-fought Brexit referendum in which 'Leave' campaigners jumped on the issue to back their claim Turkey would be a massive source of migrants in the future.
Turkey formally launched its membership bid in 2005 and since then the EU has opened 15 chapters out of the 35 required to join the bloc, although it has only completed one.
"All EU member states have agreed to open this chapter" on finance and budgetary affairs, said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders after chairing a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Brussels.
"We stressed the importance of EU-Turkey relations, the EU and Turkey working together on issues including migration," Koenders said.
The decision was part of an EU agreement in March to speed up accession talks in return for Turkey helping to control the massive inflow of refugees and migrants, mostly fleeing Syria, which overwhelmed the bloc last year.
Koenders told reporters that the talks had begun with a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the bomb attacks on Istanbul airport which left more than 40 dead, recalling a similar, Islamic State-claimed atrocity in Brussels in March.
Only one chapter has been completed so far as a result of the disagreements over Turkey's human rights record, a cause for concern in many EU states and blocking progress.
Koenders stressed the need for Turkey to meet EU rights standards as all candidate countries must do.
"As the EU, we also stressed the need for swift reform efforts, especially in areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights," he said.
"As a candidate country, naturally (there has to be) respect for the highest standards of democracy and rule of law."
Under the March agreement, the EU also agreed to boost aid to Turkey to cope with millions of refugees on its territory and to speed up visa liberalisation, but progress here has been very slow.
The EU says it cannot grant Turkey visa-free travel if it does not curb the scope of its tough anti-terror laws, something Ankara has refused to do as it battles Kurdish militants.