Turkey’s bid for membership of the European Union has hit another stumbling block, with member states postponing a new round of talks for at least four months.
The EU further criticised Turkey’s crackdown on anti-government protests and delayed the talks on Tuesday, a day before they were originally due to start.
Germany, backed by Austria and the Netherlands, blocked the planned talks, saying it would send the wrong signal so soon after police cracked down on protesters in Turkish cities.
EU governments did accept the talks in theory, agreeing to open negotiations on so-called Chapter 22, one of 35 sets of rules and regulations that candidate states must satisfy before gaining entry to the club, at some point this year.
The talks are likely to open properly in October, after the German elections which have been playing a strong role in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign policy of late.
It was the first movement on the virtually frozen Turkish bid for three years.
Turkey and Germany became embroiled in a diplomatic row last week after Merkel said she was appalled by the heavy-handedness of Turkish police.
Germany and France have always had concerns about allowing a largely Muslim country of 76 million people into the 27-nation EU, fearing that Turkey’s cultural differences and its size will make it too difficult to integrate.
Tuesday’s decision had been previously discussed with Turkey, and the government responded mildly to the news when compared to previous vitriolic responses to Germany’s objections to Turkey’s bid.
Turkey had promised a strong reaction to any EU decision and Turkish press reports had said it could suspend negotiations with Brussels altogether, but it toned down its criticism.
The foreign ministry in Ankara welcomed the decision as a “step taken in the right direction” but still deemed it “inadequate”.
“What is important is the confirmation of the opening of the chapter with an irrevocable decision,” Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, said on Tuesday.
“An obstacle in Turkey’s relations with the EU has been overcome … Our target now is the opening of two new chapters.”
Turkey opened negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying.
The diplomatic setback came as police raided homes in Ankara, detaining at least 20 people accused of participating in anti-government protests.
The state-run Anadolu agency said on Tuesday that police searched about 30 addresses, including hospitals and parks where the protesters stay during the night.
Those detained were alleged to have links to “terror” groups and were suspected of “attacking police and the environment” during recent protests that swept the country.