Turkey asks the EU to take bold steps to advance its membership bid, while the EU urges reforms

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s top diplomat on Wednesday affirmed his country's resolve to join the European Union and urged the 27-member bloc to take courageous steps to advance its bid.

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan made the comments in a news conference with the EU’s top official for enlargement. Their meeting in Ankara came as Turkey tries to put its strained relations with the EU back on track.

“The European Union cannot be a truly global actor without Turkey,” Fidan said. “It is vital that the path to Turkey’s EU membership is cleared and the perspective for membership is revitalized.”

“Our expectation is that they display the determination needed to advance our relations and that they are able to act more courageously,” he added.

The country, which straddles Europe and Asia, became a candidate to join the EU in 1999 and started membership negotiations in 2005.

The negotiations, however, came to a standstill in 2018 over Turkey's democratic backsliding and erosion of the rule of law under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as its disputes with EU member Cyprus. Many within the EU also balk at the prospect of admitting the populous, predominantly Muslim country into the group.

Turkey’s efforts to reengage with the European Union come as its economy is in deep trouble. The Turkish lira has fallen against the dollar and other currencies and high inflation has left households struggling to afford basic goods.

Oliver Varhelyi, the EU commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement, called on Turkey to undertake democratic reforms.

“The negotiations for accession are at a standstill. And for this to be remobilized, there are very clear criteria set out by the European Council that need to be addressed. These criteria are related to democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

“A credible roadmap moving forward these reforms ... could certainly trigger a new discussion among (EU) leaders who are the ones to change the current status quo,” he said.

In a sign of some movement in relations, Fidan said Turkish and EU officials would start talks on a possible upgrade of a customs union between Turkey and EU that came into effect in 1995.

The sides also agreed on the need to start talks on easing visa restrictions imposed on Turkish businesspeople and students traveling to EU countries.