European Affairs

Now It Is Up to Ankara to Deliver     Print Email

Olli RehnWith the decision to open EU entry negotiations with Turkey, the country’s accession process has passed a historic milestone. We rightly celebrated the decision as the start of a new era for Turkey, Europe and the whole world. But the party is over, and now comes the time for delivery.

As a first step, the Commission and Turkey will analyze in detail the laws and policies of the European Union and compare them with those of Turkey. This so-called screening process will allow us to find out where Turkey needs to focus its efforts to align with EU legislation.

It is worth noting, however, that the accession negotiations are about determining how and when Turkey will adopt EU rules and practices; the question is not whether Turkey will adopt them. Let me be clear on one thing to avoid any future misunderstanding: I have no doubt that Turkey is a great nation. But in all accession negotiations we apply the approach of a former president of a small nation who once said that, “there is no such thing as a small nation.” When the European Union considers the admission of new members, there are no large or small nations. Each and every country must meet the criteria to the letter. There are no shortcuts to Europe, only the regular route.

By opening accession negotiations, the European Union has kept its word and respected its commitment to Turkey. Now we expect Turkey to honor its commitments. To begin with, Turkey must implement its undertakings under its Association Agreement with the European Union, including the customs union. This applies in particular to the crucial issue of the ratification and full implementation of the additional protocol to the Association Agreement, which extends the customs union to the ten new EU member states, including Cyprus, and also calls for the lifting of restrictions on Cypriot vessels docking at Turkish ports. The sooner this Protocol is ratified and in force, the better the conditions will be for progress in the negotiations.

The latest EU Accession Partnership document, which outlines priorities and conditions for the accession process, also refers to the need for Ankara to undertake steps toward normalization of bilateral relations between Turkey and Cyprus. At the same time, it is important that Turkey continue to support efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue within the UN framework. As partners and friends we should both be fair and frank. In its progress report, published on 9 November 2005, the Commission concluded that political transition is ongoing in Turkey, and that the country continues to fulfill the political criteria for EU entry sufficiently. It is fair to say that Turkey has conducted bold and significant legislative reforms in the last years, which have now entered into force. But it is, unfortunately, also fair and frank to say that the pace of change has slowed in 2005, and the implementation of the reforms remains uneven, to say the least.

Human rights violations continue to occur. The new laws that in principle enhance the rule of law and human rights must be duly implemented on the ground. In some areas new legislative initiatives are required. Most importantly, significant further efforts are needed on fundamental freedoms and human rights, particularly on freedom of expression, women’s rights, religious freedoms, trade union rights, cultural rights and the zero tolerance policy against torture and ill-treatment.

The crux of the matter is that Turkey should better integrate the reform process into the work of all public authorities. The commitment to further political reforms should be translated into more concrete achievements for the benefit of all Turkish citizens, regardless of their origin.

We expect Turkey to tackle these significant shortcomings without delay, in line with the revised Accession Partnership, submitted to the EU Council of Ministers in November. This document, once adopted, will provide a roadmap for reform. The following are some examples of the short-term political priorities, although many other issues also need to be addressed:

First, freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, must be fully guaranteed in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The recent prosecutions of novelists such as Orhan Pamuk, journalists such as Hrant Dink and Burak Bekdil, academics such as Professors Oran and Kaboglu, and publishers such as Fatih Tas and Razip Zarakolu, are of particularly serious concern in this context.

These cases confirm that a number of vaguely worded articles of the new Penal Code, such as article 301, are being used to prosecute and, in some cases, to convict individuals for expressing non-violent opinions. To a European observer, it seems that some nationalist-minded prosecutors find it easier to fight a rearguard action against the reforms through extremely dubious interpretation of the new Penal Code, as if they had not noticed that Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and negotiating for membership in the European Union, where pluralism and free speech are basic values that cannot be compromised.

Under these conditions, it appears that the new Penal Code does not provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression, and that current practice is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In view of the repetition of cases of this type, we expect the Turkish government, especially the Reform Monitoring Group, to ensure that the judiciary system functions in line with European standards. It should be made clear to prosecutors that Article 301 of the new Penal Code should be interpreted fully in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. There should also be training programs for prosecutors and judges to ensure that they fully incorporate these principles into the system. In parallel, we expect the Turkish government to amend the Code to close loopholes that leave too much room for un-European interpretations of freedom of expression.

Second, Turkey must implement legislation on women’s rights, particularly the Civil Code, the new Penal Code and the law on the protection of the family. I welcome the fact that Turkish courts have started to impose severe sanctions on perpetrators of the infamous “honor crimes” against women. Nevertheless, domestic violence remains an area of concern for women in Turkey, along with a high illiteracy rate and low participation in Parliament, local representative bodies and the labor market. This was also the conclusion of the recent report on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality by Ermine Bozkurt, a Dutch Socialist member of the European Parliament, which makes a number of concrete proposals for improvement.

Third, non-Muslim religious minorities and communities face difficulties that must be addressed through a new law in line with European standards. The Commission’s report found that only very limited progress has been made in this area, and that non-Muslim religious communities continue to encounter significant problems: they lack legal personality, face restricted property rights and interference in the management of their foundations and are not allowed to train clergy. This assessment is shared by the European Parliament.

Fourth, we expect Turkey to implement the measures adopted in the context of the zero tolerance policy against torture and ill-treatment, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. In particular, Turkey must intensify the fight against impunity and ensure that prosecutors effectively investigate alleged cases, so that perpetrators can be identified and punished.

Fifth, Turkey must ensure that full labor union rights are respected in accordance with EU standards and relevant ILO conventions. This concerns, in particular, the right to organize, the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively. The case of the Teacher’s Union, Egitim Sen, is a litmus test in this regard, and should be addressed accordingly.

Sixth, Turkey needs to deal with the situation in the Southeast of the country, which has recently caused increasing concern. Very little or no progress has been made in tackling the region’s difficulties: no comprehensive strategy has been developed to address socio- economic problems; the teaching of Kurdish has suffered a serious setback with the closure of several schools; the situation of internally displaced persons remains critical; and the system of village guards has not been abolished.

We are aware of the bad security situation, which is a main obstacle to the development of the region. The Commission’s progress report underlines the responsibility of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has resumed its terrorist attacks in 2004; we condemn terrorism unequivocally. At the same time, this is no excuse for not addressing the problems mentioned above.

As to the latest incidents in the Hakkari region, we trust, as announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo×gan, that the Turkish authorities will conduct an in-depth investigation into the matter, and that we shall be duly informed of the results. If security officials are involved in the bombing, severe sanctions must be taken against those responsible. The Southeast needs peace, investments, jobs and respect for cultural rights – certainly not violence.

Let me clarify one essential point concerning the philosophy and conduct of accession negotiations. They proceed on two parallel tracks, and there must be serious progress on both of them. The first and most important track is the reforms and their implementation on the ground. It has primacy in our consideration. The progress of reforms to a large extent determines progress on the second track, namely the legislative and technical aspect of the accession negotiations.

If progress in the reforms were to slow down or stall, it would affect the overall climate of the negotiations, and there would be neither need nor meaning for negotiations on the details of EU regulations. That would be a great shame. It is up to Turkey to ensure concrete progress early in the negotiations on the short term priorities under the political criteria, if we are to make meaningful progress in the more technical negotiations on adapting Turkish law to EU rules. In order to open the accession negotiations, it was enough for Turkey to meet the political criteria sufficiently, but to become a member state it will have to meet them fully.

Our 2005 report, while acknowledging the progress made, raises serious concerns. If next year’s report makes a similar assessment, it will have very damaging ramifications for the conduct of the negotiations. By starting accession negotiations, the European Union placed its trust in the continuation of the transformation of Turkey. Turkey must now demonstrate a real sense of ownership of the reforms, which should not simply be the result of outside pressures or of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

The prospect of Turkish EU membership is attracting considerable attention and raises many legitimate questions amongst European public opinion. I am also aware that the Turkish public is asking many questions about the European Union. The Commission is ready to assist Turkey in efforts to improve mutual understanding with the European Union and to overcome misperceptions.

Turkey’s best asset in gaining the support of EU public opinion will be to show unambiguous commitment to democratic transformation and to European values. I am convinced that Turkey’s progress in implementing the impressive reform program set out in the Accession Partnership will have a great impact on European opinion. It is in our mutual interest that this process be framed in clear and rigorous principles based on the values of the European Union. This is the best guarantee for success, which is now in the hands of Turkey.

Olli Rehn is the European Commissioner responsible for Enlargement. He previously was Economic Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Finland. Before that, he was Professor and Director of Research in the Department of Political Science & Centre for European Studies at the University of Helsinki. He has also served as Vice President of the European Movement of Finland, and as a Member of the European Parliament. This article is based on a speech delivered to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee in Brussels on November 23, 2005.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 4 in the Fall of 2005.

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