04/14/2008, 00.00
TURKEY
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In Ankara, a "lesson" from Barroso on what the EU means

by NAT da Polis
On his visit, the president of the European Commission emphasised the political and civil meaning of the Union, called for the resumption of reforms, and expressed preoccupation over the legal proceeding aimed at outlawing the governing party. A visit to the ecumenical patriarchate.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The visit to Turkey of the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, was centreed upon what is meant by the European Union.  It was a visit of very eloquent significance, considering the difficult period of transition through which the country is passing.  The aim of the trip was twofold.  On the one hand, it was to express preoccupation over the idea of shutting down the AKP, and on the other to express the Union's disappointment over the stagnation of the reforms necessary for Turkey's integration.  Reforms that after the elections of July, 2007, came to an end with a modification of the headscarf law.

Even before Barroso's departure for Ankara, accompanied by Oli Rehn, head of EU enlargement, Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, stated that the projected shutdown of the governing party could have repercussions on Europe-Turkey relations.  Barroso himself maintained that secularism cannot become a new religion, and the procedure that would lead to the shutdown of the AKP has no support in the EU: "I hope", he said, "that it does not have negative consequences on negotiations.  We are following developments closely, and with preoccupation".

Speaking before parliament, Barroso then clearly set forth what is meant by the EU, which is a community of states that have decided to sacrifice their sovereignty in order to be able to act in concert in numerous political sectors.  Its credibility, efficiency, and the impact of its actions are founded on respect for the common rules, which are based upon the values of democracy and human rights.  Thus, he continued, countries that want to become part of the EU must satisfy all of the criteria established, there are no shortcuts.  But he then noted that Turkey has definitely made progress along the path toward its European integration, while emphasising the necessity for greater freedom of expression and of civil and political rights.

Concerning the role of the army in the Turkish political system, Barroso said that relations between politicians and military officials must be situated within the context of democratic principles.  On the debate that has arisen over secularism, he stated that this theme has been addressed in Europe's various historical periods as well, and has been resolved differently by the various countries on the basis of the fundamental principle of tolerance.  Thus the question of the veil is a personal choice for each woman.  He finally made reference to the latest developments in Cyprus and to terrorism, emphasising the common interest in seeing the reunification of the island, putting an end to a conflict that has lasted for 40 years on European soil.  Concerning the PKK/Kongra Gel, he called this a terrorist organisation that is listed as such by the EU.  Having said this, he said that a strategy must be enacted for socio-economic development in the southeastern part of the country, thus ensuring the cultural and political rights of Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin.  And he concluded: those who are familiar with the history of European integration know that Great Britain was also twice denied access to the EU.

Ultimately it was a lesson, according to comments in diplomatic circles, intended to explain that the EU is not only a commercial union, like many in Turkey think, but is also and above all a political union with its rules.  And as a German official said, one cannot ask for citizenship in a country without knowing its language.

Clearly the reactions in Turkey have been divided.  The two opposition parties, the CHP and the MHP, expressed disapproval and nationalist reactions, while Erdogan promised to resume the journey of reform toward integration.

At the conclusion of their visit to Turkey, Barroso and Oli Rehn visited the ecumenical patriarchate in Istanbul, which represents a privileged observatory for the EU on the rights of minorities in Turkey, for talks with patriarch Bartholomew.  It was confirmed that a certain sluggishness persists in the various processes.  That same evening, after the meeting with Barroso, Bartholomew himself, at the celebration of the Akthistos in a church crowded with faithful from all over the world, recalled in a voice trembling with emotion the commemoration of the hanging of patriarch Gregory V in 1821, by order of the sultan, who accused him of supporting the war for Greek independence, to recall that in 2008, the great church of Constantinople still lives in captivity.

Photo: Nikos Manginas

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