Turkey must do more…


Turkey must do more to protect basic freedoms

The outcome of Turkey’s constitutional reform referendum was a step towards EU accession, but Turkey must do more, both to protect press and religious freedoms and to resolve the northern Cyprus issue, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle told a joint meeting of MEPs and Turkish MPs on Tuesday. This echoed concerns, voiced at a Human Rights Committee hearing on Monday, about lack of press freedom, the imprisonment of conscientious objectors, and the treatment of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

EU accession is supported by all circles of Turkish society, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bağiş, told the 65th EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

 

New chapters

 

The recent constitutional reform referendum constituted “a turning point” in EU-Turkish relations, said Mr Bağiş, adding that it was difficult to explain to the Turkish public why the EU was still “delaying the accession process”, despite Turkey’s efforts to comply with EU requests and recommendations. He hoped that Turkey could open the competition chapter of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations before the end of 2010, and added that the fact that the energy chapter had not yet been opened demonstrated that the EU was not always acting in its own interests.

 

Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle welcomed the referendum result, but stressed that it was now up to Turkey to implement its provisions appropriately.

 

Fundamental rights

 

Mr Füle said the EU’s 2010 progress report on Turkey would mention positive steps such as lifting restrictions on broadcasting in other languages than Turkish, furthering judicial reform, and improving fundamental rights, but it would also voice concern about Turkey’s difficulties in guaranteeing freedom of expression, press, and religion.

 

Northern Cyprus

 

Ankara should apply the EU-Turkey association agreement’s additional protocol in full to all EU Member States, including Cyprus, stressed Mr Füle, adding that resolving the Cyprus issue was a “credibility test” for both sides.

 

Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK) said the accession process had ground to a halt. He deplored the failure to open new chapters in the accession talks, and said the EU had “ceased to be a trustworthy partner” in this respect. Turkey should not “sacrifice” accession for the sake of Northern Cyprus, he added.

 

Turkey will never give up Northern Cyprus for the sake of the European Union, but it will not give up the European Union for Northern Cyprus either, Mr Bağiş replied.

 

Visas

 

Joint Parliamentary Committee Co-Chair Lüfti Elvan, reiterated that whilst businessmen from Brazil and South Korea could easily enter the EU, those from Turkey still needed to queue for visas. Commissioner Füle replied that a readmission agreement, effective border control and co-operation on visa policy was needed to promote people-to-people contacts.


Public opinion

 

Europe’s stance on Turkey is not just about political leadership but also about public opinion, pointed out Georgios Koumoutsakos (EPP, EL).

 

Mr Bağiş rejected claims by Barry Madlener (NI, NL), that he had accused him of being “racist”, saying he had noted only that “racism had struck Europe”. Sophia in’t Veld (ALDE, NL) said she was a strong supporter of Turkey’s membership but also a supporter of the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, civilisation and self-discipline.

Orientation Debate on Enlargement

 

On 9 November, the 2010 Enlargement package will be on the agenda of the Commission meeting. This will be the first enlargement package of the new Commission. It will comprise a Strategy paper, the Opinions on the membership applications by Montenegro and Albania and seven Progress Reports on the other candidate countries and potential candidates.

For half a century, the European Union has pursued ever-deeper integration while taking in new members. Most of the time, the two processes took place in parallel. A growing membership has been part of the development of European integration right from the start. Today’s EU, with 27 Member States and a population of close to 500 million people, is much safer, stronger and more influential than the original European Economic Community of 50 years ago, with its 6 members and population of less than 200 million.

In 2006 the governments of the EU Member States at the European Council renewed the consensus on the Enlargement policy and reconfirmed the EU perspective of the countries in South East Europe – Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and Turkey.

Enlargement has moved forward over the last year. Negotiations with Croatia have entered their final stage, and there has been some progress on bilateral issues. Serbia has applied for membership. The Commission is about to issue its opinions on applications by Montenegro and Albania. Iceland began accession negotiations in July. New chapters have been opened in the negotiations with Turkey and the country has embarked on a thorough revision of its constitution, moving closer to European standards.

The current enlargement agenda covers the Western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland. The countries are at various stages, in a highly demanding preparation process:

·       3 candidate countries are in accession negotiations: Turkey, Croatia (both since October 2005) and Iceland (since July 2010).

·       The Commission recommended in 2009 to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia but Council has not yet taken a decision on this recommendation.

·       3 countries have applied for EU membership: Montenegro (in December 2008) Albania (in April 2009) and Serbia (in December 2009). The Commission Opinions on Montenegro and Albania will be part of the 2010 enlargement package. Regarding Serbia, Council has asked on 25 October the Commission to prepare its Opinion.

·        are the 2 remaining*Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo potential candidates.

Background

Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union lays down the procedure for EU accession: “any European States which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union.” Article 2 (TEU) says that “the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail.”

Article 49 contains also a reference to the “conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council“.

The December 2006 European Council agreed that “the enlargement strategy based on consolidation, conditionality and communication, combined with the EU’s capacity to integrate new members, forms the basis for a renewed consensus on enlargement“.

The most important conditions in this regard are the Copenhagen political, economic and legislative criteria formulated by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993.

The ” Copenhagen criteria ” require a candidate country to have:

·       stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

·       a functioning market economy, as well as the ability to cope with the pressure of competition and the market forces at work inside the Union;

·       the ability to assume the obligations of membership, in particular adherence to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union.

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