Brussels: European Union foreign ministers met on Saturday to discuss their vexed relationship with Turkey, a nation that is becoming a key player on the global stage even as talks to join the bloc languish.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks at a palace in Brussels aim to recognise that even though Turkey has not joined the EU, it already is "a partner with us in lots of issues around the world”.
Negotiations for Turkey to join the 27-nation EU have made little progress since starting in 2005, with France and Germany both expressing opposition to Turkey`s bid. Ankara`s relationship with the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member, is a key stumbling block.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Even as the accession process drags on, the bloc is keen to work with Turkey on issues like the Mideast peace process, Iran`s nuclear ambitions and Bosnia, where Ankara wields influence.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb called Turkey "one of the top five countries in the world today" in terms of foreign policy.
"Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately," Stubb said. "It has a great influence in the Middle East, in the African Horn in the Persian Gulf, in Iran. It`s a truly global player and we need to work together with Turkey right now on foreign and security policy."
Saturday`s talks, preceded by a working breakfast with nations bidding to join the EU, were informal and would not produce any solid policy decisions.
Ashton, who held talks with Turkey`s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday night, called the discussions a chance to "chew over" the relationship between the EU and Turkey.
The talks will "take us further in thinking about how do we collaborate with Turkey," Ashton said.
As membership talks have dragged on, Turkey`s enthusiasm for EU membership has eroded under internal tension, European scepticism and a dispute over divided Cyprus, an EU member. Key European leaders, in turn, fear an influx of migrants, worry about human rights and wonder about admitting a huge Muslim nation into a 27-nation bloc that has struggled to integrate its own Muslim minorities.
Saturday`s talks came a day before Turks vote in a referendum on changes to the Constitution that was crafted in the wake of Turkey`s 1980 military coup, which was marked by torture and other abuses.
The vote is on a package of 26 reforms that the government says will strengthen democracy and bring the 1982 Constitution more in line with European norms — a key plank in the nation`s EU bid.