2008 to be ‘EU year’ in Turkey, says foreign minister

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2008 will be the ‘year of the EU’ in Turkey, said the country’s foreign minister and chief negotiator on EU accession, Ali Babacan, responding to recent criticism over perceived interruptions to the country’s progress towards full EU membership. EURACTIV Turkey reports.

Citing the “negative impact” of the 2007 elections on EU-oriented reforms, Babacan told Kriter magazine that the government would seek to kick-start the country’s accession bid this year. Describing 2007 as a “lost year” during which Turkish democracy was subjected to a “difficult test” and Parliament was closed “for a long time”, the minister used the interview to set out clear objectives for his country’s EU accession strategy in 2008. 

The elections were an “exam” which Turkey passed in order to acquire a new president, parliament and government, said the minister, insisting that “our infrastructure is ready to continue with a new wave of reforms”. Babacan claimed that his government had convened 229 times to discuss EU procedures since September and sent a total of 17 delegations to Brussels over the last five months. 

Turkey is aiming to complete the opening criteria of nine chapters in 2008 and will be able to open a further eight “once the Cyprus issue is no longer on the table,” said the minister. Moreover, the country is renewing its entire constitution bar “one or two articles of the penal code”, Babacan told the magazine, adding that “all EU countries are closely following what we are doing and Europeans are very interested in the draft constitution”. 

He complained that lack of progress in internationally controversial areas such as the Foundations Law and the abolishment of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code were creating a false perception that Turkey was no longer reforming. 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly unfavourable attitudes toward Turkey’s EU membership were having “no effect” on its bid, Babacan stressed, claiming that “all 27 EU countries” want accession negotiations to continue. 

On Sarkozy and Merkel, the minister pointed to the French president’s attitude during meetings and swift progress on negotiating chapters under the German presidency as positive signs. 

Stressing that the EU project encompassed “all political reforms”, Babacan said that the government could not be selective over the political criteria required to reach EU standards, whether that concerned the headscarf or Article 301. Providing there was “freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of belief,” the headscarf would “definitely not be a problem” for the EU institutions, said the minister.  

The Turkish government would not allow a mooted Erdogan-Merkel-Sarkozy meeting to take place if it were to re-open the issue of Turkey’s EU accession process or treated as “an alternative to the other processes and mechanisms of the EU,” Babacan declared.

To read the original article on the EURACTIV Turkey website, please click here (Turkish only)

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