Turkey & the European Union officially launched a new stage in Ankara's long-stalled membership bid on Monday as part of a deal aimed at tackling the migration crisis.
Foreign ministers from the 28-member bloc approved a new "chapter", focusing on economic & monetary policy, of Turkey's decade-long accession process to join the EU.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the opening of the first new section for two years was "quite symbolic" & would assist tackle issues such as migration & terrorism.
"We hope other chapters will be opened shortly & the negotiations process returns to its natural course. We shouldn't wait another two years to open another chapter," Cavusoglu told a press conference in Brussels.
The opening of the new chapter was a condition of an agreement between Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu & EU leaders at a special migration crisis summit last month.
Since Muslim-majority Turkey launched its membership bid in 2005, the EU has opened 15 chapters out of a total of 35 required to join the bloc.
But due to disagreements, over human rights & press freedom issues in Turkey in particular, only one of those chapters has actually been completed during an entire decade.
The new chapter would assist bring Turkey's economy in line with European rules on finance, banking & investment, EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn told the press conference.
Such issues are significant for the EU after its lax approach to new members joining the euro in the early 2000s partly contributed to the eurozone debt crisis.
– 'Moving forward' –
"The opening of this chapter is indeed a clear signal that the accession process is moving forward," Hahn said.
Under the November 29 EU-Turkey deal, EU leaders pledged three billion euros ($3.2 billion) in aid for the more than two million refugees currently on Turkish soil from the Syrian civil war.
The EU agreed to open the new chapter — officially known as Chapter 17 — & end the visa requirement for Turkish visitors to the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.
In return Turkey vowed to take steps including cracking down on people smugglers & cooperating with the EU on the return of economic migrants who do not qualify as refugees.
Nearly one million refugees & migrants have flooded Europe's shores this year, most of them via Turkey, in the biggest crisis of its kind the continent has faced since World War II.
Cavusoglu said Turkey was moreover making progress on another key EU demand — making it easier for Syrian refugees to find work, in theory making them less likely to come to Europe.
"We are preparing a draft law to issue working permits for Syrians living in Turkey," he said.
"They have liberty to access the health care system, we are building new school classes."
Mehmet Simsek, Turkish deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, said his country was "committed to do whatever it takes to become a full EU member."
– Porous border –
The EU moreover wants Turkey to impose tighter controls on its long border with Syria, to ensure that Islamic State jihadists cannot move across freely & to stop them from transporting oil — a key source of financing for the group.
"We must be very firm with all our partners on terror financing," part of which comes from oil exports, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.
"We need measures to stop oil products from leaving (Syria). We will speak with our Turkish colleagues as with our other partners in the region," he added.
Russia & Turkey, who back opposite sides in Syria's war, have been locked in a bitter dispute over Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border in November.
The two countries have exchanged accusations of being involved in the illegal oil trade with IS.
France's Minister for European affairs, Harlem Desir, meanwhile urged Ankara to "control the Turkish-Syrian border to stop IS from bringing in foreign fighters, training them & then sending them to other countries" to stage attacks like the November 13 Paris killings.