EU says membership talks still open if Turkey wants them

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is keeping the door ajar for Turkey to become a member, but says Ankara must provide clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the entrance criteria in such areas as human rights and rule of law.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that despite the doubts expressed by some foreign ministers during a meeting Friday, the EU for now favors continuing the protracted accession talks with Turkey.

"It is to them to express their willingness to continue to be a candidate country, to continue to be interested or not to join our family," she said.

Referring to democratic ground rules such as protecting minorities and outlawing the death penalty, Mogherini said "the rules of the club are clear."

"We would be happy to have them in but a level of clarification is needed I would say on their side," she said at the end of a meeting of the 28 EU foreign ministers in Valletta, Malta.

The EU ministers also met with their Turkish counterpart for the first high-level discussion since the divisive referendum this month that gives more powers to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the run-up to the vote, Erdogan voiced harsh criticism of several EU nations that refused to allow his Cabinet members to campaign among expatriate Turks, comparing some of them to Nazis.

While some ministers are calling for sustained relations with a pillar of the NATO alliance and a major partner in controlling the flow of migrants into the EU from Syria and beyond, others are calling for change.

There are so many areas where we need a correct, friendly and productive cooperation that we have to see, together with our Turkish colleagues, how we can improve the situation," EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has been at the forefront in calling for a fundamental reset of relations, and claims Turkey has thwarted fundamental EU values.

"The path cannot be membership," he said. He insisted that Erdogan had crossed many "red lines" that would bar membership, including the imprisonment of journalists, undue pressure on the opposition, and the referendum to make the presidency more powerful.

"I would like to see a clear, courageous EU stand. 'Yes' to contact with Turkey. 'No' to accession," Kurz said.

At the end of the meeting, the EU put the membership ball in Erdogan's court.

In the wake of the referendum victory two weeks ago, Erdogan has spoken of reinstating the death penalty, which is outlawed in all EU nations as a key moral benchmark of the bloc.

Turkey applied to join the EU three decades ago, and negotiations commenced in 2005. But of the 16 negotiating chapters on issues as varied as capital movement and food safety, only one has been provisionally closed: science and research. There has been no progress in recent months, and none is expected any time soon.

"The accession process continues. It is not suspended or ended, but as you might know, we are currently not working on opening any new negotiating chapter," Mogherini said.