BRUSSELS, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The incoming enlargement minister in the European Commission said he backs a Turkish effort to become a full member of the European Union.
The Czech Republic's Stefan Fuele, the incoming enlargement chief, told European lawmakers in Brussels that Turkey could become a full EU member during his tenure.
He told a committee vetting his candidacy that he "respects the achievements" Turkey has made, saying Ankara is an important regional partner with a special role to play in the European energy sector.
"That is why we want very much to engage with Turkey on accession talks," he said. "Accession talks are the best leverage we have to help Turkey modernize, where together we make clear what the conditions are."
Turkey embarked on its accession negotiations with the European Union in 2005. Ankara has moved on a series of concessions meant to meet the policy requirements to join Europe. It faces obstacles, however, on various provisions over the island of Cyprus.
Cyprus was divided into a Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied north in 1974. Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member.
Fuele added he would embrace a sweeping enlargement policy when his tenure begins later this year.
"To me, enlargement is more than a policy portfolio," he said. "It has transformed Europe as a whole. It has restored hope and dignity to millions of people."