European Union leaders have once again called for a new constitution that will focus on fundamental freedoms and rights to sort out Turkey's frozen problems at the fifth anniversary of the opening of the TUSKON-Brussels branch. The program, which featured speakers Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle and TUSKON President Rızanur Meral, focused on Turkey's economic success and the political challenges facing the country.
Praising TUSKON for the timely organization on the eve of the EU's launch of Positive Agenda, Füle underlined the significance of a new constitution for candidate country Turkey. “The concrete work done by the Turkish Parliament to bring this process forward, including the cooperation of the four main political parties, is a promising start. I understand the parliamentary committee is entering the next -- and crucial -- phase of the process, which is to take up the pen and start drafting. I look forward to a rich and constructive debate, which will maintain the inclusive spirit we have witnessed so far,” he said.
Füle reiterated Brussels' insistence that the process is as important as the content of the constitution: “Consensus through a democratic, participatory process remains essential if this new constitution is to serve all Turkish citizens. Preparing the new constitution is not a process for politicians alone. Nor can it be a discussion behind closed doors. It also needs to be as transparent as possible. Only an integrated process will find a compromise that respects the diversity of opinions and lifestyles within Turkish society.”
Füle said the new constitution should find the right balance between protecting society as a whole and protecting the individual citizen. Commenting on the economy, European Commission Vice President Rehn strongly praised Turkey's economic performance over the last 10 years while at the same time calling on the EU to give a push to Turkey's embattled candidacy.
Speaking at the same panel, titled “Time to Face Economic Realities: Challenges and Expectations for EU and Turkey,” Babacan said Turkey was committed to becoming a full member of the union despite all the economic difficulties the bloc was experiencing. “We hear one question pretty frequently. People ask us if we are still interested in EU membership, given all their economic problems, and we tell them we are not only interested but strongly committed to the full membership target,” he said.
Turkey began holding accession negotiations with the union in 2005 but over the past seven years could only provisionally close talks in one of 35 chapters. Talks must be successfully concluded in all chapters before any candidate country's membership can be presented to a unanimous vote at the European Council, the highest decision-making body of the EU.
Most observers attribute the slow pace of negotiations to a lack of political will within the EU for Turkey's accession, coupled with a growing disinterest in membership within Turkey. The recent leadership change in France, which has been one of the most outspoken critics of Turkey's entry into the 27-member club, appears to have raised hopes for acceleration of the process. Yet most commentators agree that it would be wrong to let that optimism shadow a number of contentious issues between the candidate country and the bloc, in particular member nations such as Germany, Austria and Greek Cyprus.