Mr Olli Rehn
Member of the European Commission, responsible for
“Turkey: state of play of the accession process”
European Parliament, AFET committee
Exchange of Views with Commissioner Rehn
Draft report on Turkey presented by Mr Camiel Eurlings
Brussels, 20 June 2006
Let me start by thanking Mr Eurlings for his draft report which offers a sound, wide-ranging basis for the debate. Let me also thank the committee for their hard work and for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you the state of play in EU-Turkey relations.
Last week in Luxembourg, during the Accession Conference, the EU foreign ministers decided to open and provisionally close the chapter on Science and Research. This is a signal that Turkey's EU accession process is on track.
However, precisely because Turkey is a negotiating country, our expectations of Turkey have naturally increased. In this context, I would stress that progress in the negotiations will depend not only on progress in the different chapters, but first and foremost on the pace of reforms.
As rightly mentioned in Mr Eurlings draft report, full respect for the political criteria is of paramount importance. The EU emphasised this to Turkey at the meeting of the Association Council last week.
Further tangible progress is absolutely needed this year, in line with the conclusions of the 2005 Progress Report and with the revised Accession Partnership adopted by the Council in January. After more than three years of substantial legislative reforms, I am concerned that the reform process has lost its momentum. This was the message of the EU at the Association Council with Turkey on 12 June.
It is therefore important that new initiatives are taken, such as the new package of reforms about to be adopted by the Turkish Parliament before the summer recess. This package should contain a series of measures which will help Turkey move towards full compliance with the political criteria.
If adopted, these measures will include the setting up of an ombudsman and clarifying the respective roles of civil and military. The package also aims to strengthen the fight against corruption and address some of the difficulties of religious foundations.
All this is of course welcome. I hope that this package will give new impetus to the reform process in Turkey and take forward the country's political transition.
While there has been some legislative progress, on the ground the implementation of reforms remains uneven.
Non-governmental organizations tend to agree that overall, human rights violations have decreased on the ground across the country. Turkish citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their rights even in remote areas of the country. However, there are persisting difficulties in quite a number of areas.
For example, in the area of freedom of expression, there are now more acquittals by the Courts in cases involving writers, intellectuals, journalists prosecuted for expressing non violent opinion. But the process of establishing a suitable body of case-law takes time.
Indeed, there are still a number of court cases brought against people expressing non-violent opinions. Recent cases include journalists, such as Perihan Mahgden, who defended conscientious objection.
If judges and prosecutors continue to give a restrictive interpretation of the penal code, then its vaguely formulated articles should be amended to be clearly in line with the relevant EU standards. Indeed, the best and surest way to close this loophole is to amend Article 301.
Another series of shortcomings relates to the lack of any progress in addressing the difficulties faced by Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities and communities. The draft law on Foundations currently pending in Parliament will only address some of these difficulties, namely the property regime. We have repeatedly written to the Turkish authorities asking them to amend the draft law in line with the relevant European standards. But this not does replace the need for other more far reaching measures covering all remaining aspects, such as the training of the clergy, as well as the legal status and the internal management of the religious communities.
I sincerely hope that there will be a change of approach and we will soon see some progress on this issue. The continuing practice of the confiscation and sale of properties belonging to non-Muslim religious foundations pending the adoption of the new law is clearly unacceptable.
I am also particularly concerned at the unrest in the Southeast, where the situation is still very tense and fragile. Clearly, the riots of the end of March had a negative impact. I deeply deplore the loss of innocent life and unequivocally condemn the PKK for its attacks. But a policy based on mere security considerations clearly does not suffice to address the problems of this region.
The Southeast faces many serious difficulties. The socio-economic situation is critical, due in particular to high unemployment and poverty. The spiral of violence jeopardises positive developments witnessed since emergency rule was lifted some years ago.
Greater effort is also needed to enhance cultural rights in the Southeast. In this context, the recent decision of the High Audio Visual Board to relax some of the existing restrictions on broadcasting in Kurdish is a step in the right direction. We expect Turkey to soon adopt, as announced, a comprehensive strategy addressing the economic, social and cultural needs of all citizens living in this region.
On a more positive note for the South East, local NGOs have reported some progress as regards freedoms of assembly, association and women’s rights. Rape victims are no longer being forced to marry. Separation of property in divorce cases has started to work. The increased punishment for incest is becoming a deterrent factor. On honour killings, although there have been two cases recently, the authorities are now successfully imposing heavy penalties on perpetrators of such crimes.
Let me make two final observations on political issues.
First, I am worried about recent apparent cases of interference of the military in the functioning of the judiciary and in the political agenda. The Sendimli case is a case in point, raising doubts not only about the methods of the military to fight against PKK, but also about the independence of the judiciary. Here I refer to the sacking of the prosecutor in charge of an investigation because he indicted the Commander of the Land Forces. I hope and expect that the judicial proceedings on the events of Şemdinli will be held in accordance with the principle of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Secondly, while fully understanding the need to combat terrorism, this should not be done at the cost of fundamental freedoms. Turkey should avoid including in the anti-terror law vaguely formulated provisions which could open the door to restrictions on freedom of expression and undermine previous reforms.
Let me now turn to Turkey's obligation to honour its existing commitments. This applies in particular to the need to fully implement the Additional Protocol adapting the EC-Turkey Association Agreement to the accession of ten new Member States.
Turkey should remove existing obstacles to the free movement of goods including restrictions on means of transport which are in breach of existing obligations under the Association Agreement. This means that Turkey should open its ports to vessels under flag of all Member States, including the Republic of Cyprus. As set out in the Negotiating Framework, the opening of accession negotiations on the relevant chapters depends on Turkey's implementation of its obligations to all Member States under the Association Agreement.
The difficult discussions we had on the closure of the negotiation chapter Science & Research demonstrate that this issue is omnipresent in the process. If we want to avoid a major problem in the autumn, Turkey needs to stick to its word.
Clearly, there is an alternative to a major accident provided the parties in Cyprus stop complaining against past injustice and rather work on future solutions with a pragmatic approach.
We welcome the idea to launch technical committees under the auspices of the UN, this is important for both communities on the island and I hope they will be established very soon. But this should in no way delay the re-engagement of all parties concerned in UN sponsored talks on the comprehensive settlement. The Commission is obviously ready to support such talks.
The EU should also do more to demonstrate clearly its determination to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, and thus to allow for direct trade between this community and the rest of the Union.
EU-Turkey relations are governed by a clear set of guiding principles. Full respect for the political criteria is crucial. At the same time, Turkey should comply with its obligations, that are the Association Agreement, including its Additional Protocol and the Customs Union, as well as the Accession Partnership. This is essential to re-establish mutual confidence which is so badly needed in the negotiation process. Failure to do so will affect the overall progress in the negotiations. The Commission will continue to monitor closely the situation and will review progress in its next report to be adopted in the autumn.