Brussels: Brussels needs Turkey as a strategic ally against the Islamic State group and should carry on membership talks with Ankara despite concerns over human rights, the EU`s executive branch said Wednesday.
A European Commission report accused Turkey, which began formal EU accession talks in 2005, of undermining the independence of judges and freedom of expression in the last year.
But it stressed the need to work more closely with Ankara in key areas such as fighting IS, also known as ISIL, which is currently trying to take the Syrian town of Kobane near the Turkish border.
"Turkey is a strategic partner for the European Union," enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule said after the report was published. "It is therefore paramount that accession negotiations remain the main engine of our relations."
The accession talks with Turkey resumed late last year following a three-year freeze. Turkey was angered by Brussels` focus on human rights, while some EU member states had strong reservations about allowing in such a large Muslim country.
Fule cited cooperation on the economy, trade, migration and energy as areas for cooperation, but the report focused on Turkey`s role in an increasingly turbulent region.
"The very serious developments in the region, in particular in Syria and Iraq, render cooperation on foreign policy issues even more crucial," the report said.
The commission said the political dialogue with Turkey "should be used to develop closer cooperation against ISIL and its funding networks".
Counter-terror talks with Ankara should be strengthened "particularly in the area of `foreign fighters,`" it added.
The EU says around 3,000 of its citizens have gone to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq, the vast majority of them by passing through Turkey, and that some could launch attacks in their home countries on their return.
But the European Commission report also expressed fresh human rights concerns about Turkey.
Turkey`s Islamic-rooted government in the last year embarked on a purge of the police and judiciary and cracked down on Twitter and YouTube in the wake of a corruption probe that has targeted top business leaders.
The commission said there were "serious concerns over the independence, efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary."
It also criticised laws limiting freedom of speech, and Turkey`s decision to block Twitter and YouTube in March after they were used to spread audio recordings implicating Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, and his inner circle in a corruption scandal.
Both websites were eventually unblocked, after constitutional court rulings that the bans were unlawful.