ATHENS (Reuters)–British European Affairs Minister Keith Vaz applauded Greece on Wednesday for agreeing to Turkey’s European Union candidacy but said membership was still far off.
"Turkey has a long way to go before it becomes ready for negotiations to join the European Union. It must meet various criteria–which we call the Copenhagen criteria–on political and economic matters," Vaz told Reuters.
Vaz was speaking after meeting with Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Christos Rokofylos to discuss EU-related matters.
"We will do our bit along with our colleagues in Europe–including Greece–to help Turkey prioritize the issues so that they can begin their negotiations…," Vaz said.
The 15-nation bloc granted Ankara candidate status last December but made clear Turkey needed to improve human rights and make progress on economic and democratic reforms before entry negotiations could begin.
Rokofylos said Greece accepted Turkey’s application because it wanted to "escape from the misery of a bad past and head toward calmer waters with good neighborly relations…
"We did this with the hope that a democratic Turkey–which respects and protects human rights – a European Turkey–will be a better neighbor for us and for the whole of Europe," Rokofylos said.
Serious disputes over territorial rights and the divided island of Cyprus remain–but trust has grown among the governmen’s and populations of both countries.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s official visit to Turkey this week–the first such trip since 1962–symbolically crowns an intense half-year of bilateral contacts.