Road to EU membership a long one, Schulz says in Ankara

Road to EU membership a long one, Schulz says in Ankara

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (L) met with Turkish officials, including Minister of EU Affairs Egemen Bağış, during his visit to Ankara on Monday. (Photo: AA)

May 28, 2012, Monday/ 15:49:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

European Parliament President Martin Schulz had talks with President Abdullah Gül and government and opposition leaders focusing mainly on Turkish reforms and its stalled bid to join the European Union during his visit to Ankara on Monday.

Speaking at the inauguration of an EU-Turkish Parliament exchange and dialogue project, Schulz said it was no secret that Turkey's accession process would be a long and difficult one. "There will be major changes that Turkey will need to undertake," he was quoted as saying by Anatolia news agency. Commenting on Turkish efforts to reform the Constitution, Schulz said minorities should be involved in the reform process and called for equal protection for religious and ethnic minorities in the new constitution.

Earlier in the day, Schulz began his talks with visits to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the parliamentary group of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) at Parliament. He met with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and a BDP delegation that included Deputy Chairperson Gültan Kışanak and parliamentary group chairmen Hasip Kaplan and Pervin Buldan. Schulz also met with Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before meeting Gül.

Schulz's visit comes amid hopes that Turkey's EU accession process might finally receive a boost after the French presidential elections, which saw anti-Turkish membership Nicolas Sarkozy lose to Socialist François Hollande. Turkey hopes that France under Hollande will lift its current block on five negotiating chapters, paving the way for progress -- albeit limited -- before Greek Cyprus assumes the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1. Turkish leaders have repeatedly said that there will be no dialogue with the EU presidency during the Greek Cypriot term, effectively rendering any progress on the accession talks impossible after July.

But Schulz, in remarks made on Sunday before traveling to Turkey, was not optimistic about an immediate breakthrough in Turkey's EU process after the French elections. Schulz, speaking to Germany's Der Tagesspiegel newspaper, explained that there was reform fatigue in Turkey and enlargement fatigue in Europe. “This situation will not change quickly following the change [of administration] in Paris,” he was quoted by Anatolia as telling the German daily.

When asked to elaborate on the slowdown in reforms, Schulz noted that there had been no real progress on the Kurdish issue and brought up the case of Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana, who was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). “I say this clearly, the European Parliament will follow her case very closely,” he said. Zana, a recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was previously imprisoned on terror-related charges in the 1990s. She entered Parliament as an independent supported by the BDP after the June 2011 general elections.

Schulz, a German Socialist, also spoke in favor of Turkey's eventual accession to the EU, saying the accession of a Muslim country embracing Western values to the EU would be the ultimate evidence that the EU is not a religious club. He criticized European politicians who insisted that accession talks with Turkey were “open-ended,” which implied that membership was not guaranteed at the end. “Such statements have complicated the talks from the very beginning. You either have talks for accession, or you don't have talks at all,” he said.

But Schulz was also openly critical of Turkey's refusal to have any dialogue with the EU presidency during the Greek Cypriot term. “It is not Turkey that decides who becomes the EU president. An EU candidate cannot say it will not negotiate for membership when a certain EU country assumes the rotating presidency,” he said.

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