The restart of EU-Turkey accession talks has been postponed from Wednesday (26 June) until at least October following a German request.
EU foreign ministers agreed the step at a General Affairs Council (GAC) in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
According to an EU source, the text of the formal conclusions says: “The Council agrees to open Chapter 22 and underscores that the IGC [intergovernmental conference] with Turkey will take place after the presentation of the commission’s annual progress report and following a discussion of the GAC which will confirm the common position of the Council for the opening of Chapter 22 and determine the date for the accession conference.”
The decision amounts to a “political assent” to open the new chapter, on regional development.
The European Commission is to file its progress report on Turkey’s EU reform credentials in October.
But the GAC text underlines that the talks might not take place if the commission gives Turkey bad marks.
Germany tabled its proposal following a Turkish police crackdown on anti-government protests, which continue to rumble on.
It was backed by Austria and the Netherlands.
But the majority of EU countries and the commission wanted to go ahead this week, saying negotiations would help the EU to exert pressure on Turkish authorities.
For their part, Turkish diplomats earlier warned there would be a “harsh” reaction if Wednesday’s IGC was cancelled.
But its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, put a positive spin on the EU decision on Tuesday.
He told press in Ankara that: “Chapter 22 has been opened. The question has been resolved.”
Meanwhile, the delay means the EU decision will fall after German elections in September.
A pro-Turkish decision could have cost Chancellor Angela Merkel right wing votes.
Her CDU party in its election manifesto this week in any case said Turkey should never join the Union because “given the size of the country and its economic structure, the European Union would be overwhelmed.”
But German diplomats deny that their October talks proposal was linked to domestic politics.
EU-Turkey negotiations stalled in 2010 due to a veto by Cyprus, which is locked in a decades-old frozen conflict with Turkey over Turkish-occupied north Cyprus.
The impasse has seen Turkish public support for EU membership fall from over 70 percent in 2011 to around 30 percent today.