Saturday, May 3, 2008

Turkey EU membership?

EU urges Turkey to speed up reforms

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan (C), EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn (R), Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, the current head of the EU presidency, and Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the minister of state for European affairs of incoming EU president France, met at the Ankara Palace State Guest House.
The European Union yesterday urged Turkey to speed up reforms concerning human rights and freedom of association as it moves forward in the accession process, with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn calling a restart of the reform process by the Turkish government a recipe for solving the ongoing problems that the candidate country has been facing.

The EU also warned of negative consequences if the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is eventually closed down by Turkey's Constitutional Court. The Turkish capital yesterday hosted a landmark meeting of the EU-Turkey Troika amid domestic political turmoil over an ongoing closure case against Turkey's ruling party as well as the marring of Labor Day celebrations last week by the Turkish police's use of disproportionate force against demonstrators.

Along with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Rehn, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, the current head of the EU presidency, and Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the minister of state for European affairs of incoming EU president France, gathered at the Ankara Palace -- the official state guesthouse.

Speaking at a joint press conference following their meeting, both Rehn and Rupel praised recent reforms carried out by the Turkish government. The two particularly underlined recent amendments to a disputed law used to prosecute writers for insulting Turkishness as well as a new foundations law that gives further rights to minority groups as positive developments.

Rehn, however, also emphasized that further reforms are needed and said these reforms would serve as the "recipe" for overcoming ongoing problems of the candidate country. He said that issues such as establishing a completely independent judiciary and strengthening human rights were a priority as well as the establishment of an ombudsman's office with powers to look into state abuses.

Criticizing the way Turkish police violently broke up trade union demonstrations in İstanbul on May 1, Rehn also said the police response was disproportionate and that trade union rights must be enhanced, "both in theory and in practice," via adopting and implementing related EU legislation. He also added that this would be key for opening more chapters in negotiations between Turkey and the EU.

Turkish riot police fired water cannons and tear gas at crowds in central İstanbul on Thursday, detaining hundreds. Dozens of people were injured.

"We in the commission deplore this disproportionate use of force on May 1," Rehn said, adding that the commission expected the events to be investigated.

"We reiterated our call for the Turkish authorities to act within the European law and the practice to respect trade union rights in line with EU standards," he said.

Rehn made it clear that the European Commission was against a court case that could see the AK Party banned and said because Turkey was a candidate for EU membership, the commission could not stay neutral on the matter. In March, Turkey's Constitutional Court decided unanimously to hear an appeal from a top prosecutor to close Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AK Party on charges that it had become a "focal point for anti-secular activities." The prosecutor has also sought a five-year ban from party politics for 71 politicians, including Erdoğan and former AK Party member President Abdullah Gül. The EU, which Turkey aspires to join, has harshly criticized the case and even warned that accession talks with Turkey could come to a halt if the AK Party is closed down in the end.

While avoiding comment on what exactly would be the position of Turkey's accession talks if the AK Party is eventually banned, Rehn merely said the move would have "negative consequences."

For his part, Jouyet, meanwhile, pledged that his country would assume "an objective, neutral and balanced" approach vis-à-vis Turkey's accession process during its upcoming rotating presidency. "There is an ongoing process and there will be discussions. France's EU term presidency will be objective, neutral and balanced. We will implement related criteria for opening of new chapters," Jouyet told reporters. Later in the day, Rehn also had talks with Erdoğan and Gül, who also met separately with Jouyet.

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