EU says Turkey is key country but criticizes fundamental rights progress

 EU says Turkey is key country but criticizes fundamental rights progress

Flags of Turkey (R) and the European Union are seen in front of a mosque in İstanbul in this Oct. 4, 2005 file photo. (Photo: AP)

September 23, 2012, Sunday/ 10:51:00/ SELÇUK GÜLTAŞLI

The EUropean Union will declare Turkey “a key country for the security and prosperity of the EU” but will also criticize Ankara's lack of progress in fulfilling the political criteria for accession, in particular on the issue of fundamental rights, in its Enlargement Strategy paper, due on Oct. 10.

The draft strategy paper, which is the most important part of the enlargement package, underlines Turkey's regional role and praises its activities in foreign policy and energy but also focuses on its shortcomings in the areas of freedom of expression and the media.

The draft, which Today's Zaman has reviewed, underlines the importance of Turkey for the EU. “Turkey is a key country for the security and the prosperity of the EU, considering its dynamic economy, its strategic location and its important regional role which contributes to the EU's foreign policy and energy security, notable most recently as regards Syria,” the document states.

Praising Turkey's economy, young population and geopolitical role, the paper says: “The dynamism of the Turkish economy, Turkey's geopolitical role, its contribution to energy security and its young population represent an opportunity for both Turkey and the EU in a context of an accession perspective.”

The paper regrets that no chapter has been opened for the second year in a row in Turkey's accession process. In terms of dialogue on foreign and security policy the draft has a positive tone, drawing attention to the significantly increased Turkey-EU cooperation. “Developments in Turkey's and the EU's joint neighborhood confirmed the important role and contribution of Turkey to the EU's foreign policy and energy security. Turkey continued to play a positive role supporting reform movements in countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Cooperation on Syria is intense. A dialogue with Turkey on the Western Balkans commenced before summer and dialogues on other regions such as the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa have been established.”

On visa liberalization negotiations the European Commission expects Turkey to sign the readmission agreement. “After it was initialed in June, it is now crucial that Turkey signs the readmission agreement to allow for implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap to start.”

Growing concerns on political criteria

The strategy paper continues the critical tone of the most recent progress report on Turkey on fundamental freedoms, calling the lack of improvement a “source of serious preoccupation.” Arguing that self-censorship is increasingly widespread, the draft says government should swiftly present the fourth judicial reform package.

“Concerns are growing regarding Turkey's lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria. Situation regarding respect of fundamental rights continues to be the source of serious preoccupation-despite recent improvements to various legal provisions in this area. There are recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression, assembly and association, through the disproportionate application of the legislation on terrorism and organized crime. Further restriction of the freedom of the media in practice and the growing number of court cases against writers and journalists remain serious issues. As a consequence, self-censorship is increasingly wide-spread,” says the draft.

The EU is preparing for a second “Speak Up” conference on freedom of expression in the first half of 2013. “In view of the challenges persisting in this issue, the Commission plans to hold a follow-up in the first half of 2013 to the May 2011 ‘Speak Up' conference,” says the draft.

Constitution, opportunity for Kurdish issue

The EU says the Kurdish problem is still a key challenge for Turkey's democracy and stresses the urgent need for a political solution. “The on-going work on a new constitution provides an important opportunity in this respect,” the paper says. As in previous years, Brussels strongly condemns Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terror, underlining that the PKK has intensified its terror campaign in recent months.

The draft reserves four paragraphs for the Cyprus problem, criticizing Turkey's position during the Greek Cypriot presidency. “The European Council expressed its serious concerns with regard to Turkish statements and threats and called for full respect of the role of the Presidency of the Council, which is a fundamental institutional feature of the EU provided for in the treaty,” it says. The EU strongly sides with the Greek Cypriot administration in the current oil exploration dispute in the Mediterranean.

Each year the commission adopts its “Enlargement package” -- a set of documents explaining its policy on EU enlargement and reporting on progress achieved in each country. This package includes the annual Enlargement Strategy Paper, which is the most important part and which sets out the way forward for the coming year and takes stock of the progress made over the last 12 months by each candidate country and potential candidate.


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