EU report to push for further reforms in Turkey

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The EU is set to urge Turkey to step up reforms in its regular progress report to be published next week (6 November) – adopting, however, a softer tone compared to last year.

The Commission is set to urge Turkey to give new impetus to political reform when it publishes its regular report on the progress made by the country.

In an interview with EURACTIV, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn clearly stated what he expects from the Turkish authorities: “The new government has put the EU accession process and the constitutional reform at the top of its agenda, with a view to improving democracy and expanding fundamental freedoms. The reforms should now be re-launched in full and without delay.”

The Commission will address the lack of progress in the area of human rights, especially in the areas of freedom of expression and religious freedom. This is particularly directed at article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes “insulting Turkishness” a criminal offence and has resulted in a number of court cases against writers and journalists. 

Rehn said that “freedom of expression is the first and foremost priority, since it underpins the functioning of an open, democratic and self-confident society. This means that article 301 must be repealed or revised.”

He added that the debate on Turkey’s constitutional reform, which will take several months, should not prevent the government from making progress on certain issues requiring urgent attention, such as freedom of expression and religious freedoms. “Progress on fundamental freedoms and international obligations are not mutually exclusive – both are priorities,” he added.

Moreover, the EU wants to see the military’s influence in Turkish politics cut back. Another sticking point is the unresolved Cyprus issue. The EU last year decided to suspend EU membership talks in eight out of 35 negotiating areas, due to Turkey’s refusal to open up its ports and airports to ships and planes from EU member Cyprus.

Rehn made clear that the EU will not budge on this point. “Turkey has well-known obligations related to the implementation of the Ankara protocol. We urge Turkey to respect its obligations, and the sooner, the better.”

Since last December, four negotiating chapters have been opened on enterprise and industrial policy, statistics, financial control and energy. Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, an outspoken critic of Turkish accession, France managed to block the opening of the chapter on economic and monetary union.

Turkish Secretary General for EU Affairs, Mustafa Oguz Demiralp, warns that some of the EU leaders’ statements during the negotiations have affected the accession process negatively, causing “distrust” and “pessimism” towards the EU in Turkey.

However, this year’s report is likely to take a softer tone compared to last year’s. The EU is particularly happy with the continued stabilisation of economic growth and Turkey’s overcoming a major political crisis earlier this year.

EU lawmakers, in a resolution on 3 October, “welcomed the election of the new president as a sign of the strength of Turkish democracy” and praised “the commitment of the new government to enhancing the reform process”.

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