11/08/2006, 00.00
EUROPEAN UNION – TURKEY
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EU critical of Turkey's progress, stops short of freezing talks, sets deadline

EU report calls on Turkey to meet European standards on Cyprus, freedom of expression and religion, women's and trade union rights.

Brussels (AsiaNews) – A report by the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was released today. It is critical of Turkey's reform process but stops short of recommending any slowing or freezing of talks. It does threaten though to make "relevant recommendations" at the EU Council meeting next month if Turkey has not by then responded to EU demands on Cypriot shipping, freedom of expression and religion, women's and labour union rights.

It points the finger at Section 301 of Turkey's Penal Code, which has led to the prosecution of numerous writers like Nobel Prize laureate for literature Orhan Pamuk on charges of "insulting Turkishness". It also raises serious concerns over civilian control over the military.

The report does indicate that Turkey has made progress in reforms but that the pace slowed down in the last year.

Overall, the report focuses on two areas, one relating to finding a diplomatic solution on trade with Cyprus, and the other on having Turkey meet European standards on civil liberties and human rights.

The Cyprus issue is so delicate that last Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it would be better if it were dealt with through the United Nations rather than the European Union.

However, Turkey agreed last year to extend its customs union with the EU to Cyprus, which joined the bloc in 2004. I has failed to do so and its ports and airports remain off limits to Cypriot traffic.

In September the Finnish EU presidency proposed a compromise that would entail renewed trade between the European Union and the so-called Turkish Republic of Cyprus, which occupies the northern part of the island and is recognised only by Turkey. But the offer does not seem to have made any difference with the Turkish government. In Turkey itself, a poll indicated that 70 per cent of the people would rather see the government put talks on hold rather than make concessions to the EU on the issue.

The report also calls for the repeal or at least changes to controversial Section 301 of the Penal Code, which many views as contrary to freedom of expression.

Whilst the report does acknowledge that freedom of worship is guaranteed in Turkey, it also says that freedom of religion must be boosted. The rights of women and trade unions must also be better protected.  And more attention should be paid to the human and social rights of the Kurdish population as well as to the economic problems they face.

Responding to questions right after the report was released Prime Minister Erdogan said talks with the EU would continue. "There is no chance of a rupture or anything like that, in my view. A suspension, a breakdown of consultations, the train halting at the station, these are not possible," he said. But there "could be a slowdown on [some] chapters."

Ugur Yorulmaz, a leading member of Turkey's conscientious objectors movement, told AsiaNews that in his country public opinion is split four-ways.

The first one is made up of those who opposed EU membership altogether. They are  radical nationalists who "resist" the idea and object to everything that Europe might ask. For them, Europeans want to divide the country.

Then, there are the "soft nationalists" who want to join the European Union but without making any changes. The members of this second group want to live like Europeans but fear losing their traditions. They are sometimes influenced by the first group.

The third group is variable. It includes people who have little understanding of the EU and change their opinion as the relationship with Europe changes. Slowly they are becoming more negative about the prospect of joining the union. Most Turks belong to this and the second groups.

Finally, the fourth group is made up of pro-Europeans but it, too, is quite varied. It includes those who want both to join the European Union and implement reforms as well as those who want reforms but do not want to join Europe but think that this is the best way of getting reforms. Social-democrats, some high-minded democrats, many businessmen (the leading ones) and most Kurds want to join Europe and implement the reforms.

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