BRUSSELS: The European Union has to speed up membership talks with Turkey because it badly needs the nation as a reliable energy partner, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said Monday.
Barroso said he would push to get talks moving again on Turkey's EU membership bid as the bloc searches for alternative energy routes after an energy dispute between Ukraine and Russia left many EU nations short of natural gas.
One option is the Nabucco pipeline, which is being planned to bypass the feuding nations and carry Caspian natural gas through Turkey to Europe.
"Turkey can in fact be something that is in the interest of all European citizens," Barroso said after meeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who is visiting the EU for the first time in more than four years. "Good cooperation on energy matters."
Erdogan said his country was ready to play a key role to help EU energy security. "Turkey is not coming to the EU to become a burden; we are coming to relieve some burdens off the shoulders of the European Union," he said.
Erdogan said his country was acutely aware of its importance to the EU as a new energy partner because of the gas dispute. "We are aware of our responsibility," Erdogan said. "We don't want to use it as a weapon."
The prime minister sought Barroso's help in unblocking membership talks that France, Austria and other EU nations have successfully stalled amid widespread public opposition to Turkey's membership bid.
The EU has suspended membership negotiations in 8 of 35 different policy areas, over Turkey's refusal to recognize Cyprus, an EU member, and to open its ports to the small island nation. Only 10, less important, files have been opened for negotiation.
Diplomats say Cyprus has been blocking the opening of talks in the energy area because of a dispute with Turkey over gas exploration at sea. Energy is one of the 35 areas, or so-called chapters, in Turkey's accession talks.
Barroso told said that an issue as important as energy security should not be made conditional upon such a specific issue.
Erdogan said his government would "step up" its reform drive to meet EU standards on political and human rights.
EU officials praised Turkey's recent moves to set up a Kurdish-language television station and a special ministry dealing with EU entry talks, but pressed Erdogan to do more to guarantee minority rights, curb powers of the military and pass new rights for trade unions.