By Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) - Officials from the European Union and Turkey will restart talks next week on modernising a customs union between the two sides, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Wednesday.
Turkey has been an official candidate to join the EU for 24 years, but accession talks have stalled in recent years over the bloc's concerns about human rights violations and respect for the rule of law.
In July, President Tayyip Erdogan called for a re-opening of Ankara's accession talks and said full membership remained a key strategic objective for Turkey.
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara following talks with EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, Fidan said he and Varhelyi had agreed to restart talks on the customs union, which aims to provide unhindered access for goods between the sides.
"Delegations will start convening as of next week and the efforts will pick up pace," he said.
The EU-Turkey customs union entered force in 1995 but is limited to industrial goods and processed agricultural products.
In an interview with Reuters, Varhelyi said his talks in Ankara had helped identify areas where the bloc and Turkey could start working immediately, adding that full membership required steps from Turkey on the rule of law and human rights.
"We agreed to tackle the most important outstanding issues that we can tackle already now without the modernisation of the customs union, so our colleagues will sit together and will start working immediately," Varhelyi said.
Asked about whether there were prospects for Turkey to be a part of the 2030 EU enlargement aim outlined by European Council President Charles Michel, Varhelyi said the priority was to "change the atmosphere", after disputes between Ankara and some member states, namely Greece and Cyprus, strained ties in recent years.
He said his visit had "confirmed that there is more than an openness" from Ankara on advancing the accession process, adding the EU had seen "a series of very positive messages" from Turkey recently on the matter, but that a "positive agenda" must first be established.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by William Maclean)