In a strategy paper released on Tuesday along with annual progress reports on candidate countries including Turkey, the EU Commission noted Turkey's growing foreign policy activism and said it could be a significant asset for the EU. “Turkey's foreign policy has become more active in its wider neighborhood. This is an asset for the EU, provided it is developed as a complement to Turkey's accession process and in coordination with the EU,” said the document.
“By acting together, the EU and Turkey can strengthen energy security, address regional conflicts, and prevent cleavages developing along ethnic or religious lines.”
The EU Commission's calls come amid growing European skepticism towards the accession of new members as several members of the 27-nation bloc are battling with a global financial crisis that dried up jobs. “The EU's enlargement process contributes to stability in Europe and to the security and well-being of its citizens. It provides a unique incentive for political and economic reform in the enlargement countries,” the Commission document, made public in Brussels, said. “The EU institutions and its member states need to work hand in hand to strengthen understanding and support for the enlargement process and to explain how it can help us achieve our common objectives. By making a success of further enlargement, the EU will be able better to address the many other challenges which it faces.”
The strategy paper and the accompanying annual progress report make clear that Turkey, a candidate since 1999, still has a long way to go for membership. “Accession negotiations advanced, albeit rather slowly,” states the strategy paper, calling on Turkey to step up efforts to meet the accession criteria. The membership negotiations, said the document, “have reached a demanding stage requiring Turkey to step up its efforts in meeting established conditions.”
Turkey began accession negotiations with the EU in 2005 but has been able to open talks on 13 out of 35 chapters so far. Talks were closed on only one chapter, or policy area, namely science and research.
The EU Commission noted that Turkey has continued its political reform process, praising a set of constitutional amendments passed in a referendum on Sept. 12. “The constitutional amendments are a step in the right direction. They address a number of priorities of the Accession Partnership in the area of the judiciary, fundamental rights and public administration,” said the progress report. “However, broad public consultation involving all political parties and civil society, with their full engagement, is needed to strengthen support for constitutional reform. The implementation of the amended constitutional provisions through legislation, in line with European standards, is key.”
The lengthy document, assessing Turkey's progress in meeting political and economic criteria of accession as well as in each one of the 35 negotiating chapters, also says an investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine group believed to have worked to instigate a coup to topple the democratically elected government, and investigations into other coup plans “remain an opportunity for Turkey to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law.” But it noted that there were concerns as regards judicial guarantees for all suspects.
It said President Abdullah Gül “continued to play an active conciliatory role promoting dialogue between the main political parties and endeavoring to ensure the sound operation of state bodies” although there were concerns expressed in his appointments to certain key state institutions. The strained relations between key state bodies are continuing to have a negative impact on the smooth functioning of political institutions, the report also noted.
It said the positive trend on the prevention of torture and ill-treatment continued and freedom of worship continues to be generally respected. Dialogue with Alevis and non-Muslim religious communities continued but has yet to produce results.
On the government's efforts to address the Kurdish issue, the report said the government's Kurdish initiative “was only partly followed through” despite public statements of commitment. “It is important to sustain efforts to address the Kurdish issue,” it said.
No progress on Cyprus
On Cyprus, whose division hampers progress in Turkey's accession process, the Commission noted Ankara's continued refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus. In 2006, the Commission suspended negotiations on eight chapters due to Turkey's policy of granting no access to Greek Cypriot ships and planes to its ports and airports. Ankara says it will open its ports when the EU acts on its 2004 promise to allow direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots.
“Despite repeated calls by the Council and the Commission, Turkey still has not complied with its obligations,” the progress report says. “It does not meet its obligation of full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and has not removed all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus. In addition, Turkey has not made progress towards normalizing bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus,” it said of the current situation. “The Commission will continue to monitor closely and report on all issues covered by the 21 September 2005 declaration, in accordance with the Council conclusions of 2006.”