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SPEECH/08/257












Olli Rehn

EU Commissioner for Enlargement




Turkey to refocus on EU reforms






















Strasbourg Plenary session
Strasbourg, 21 May 2008

President, Honourable Members,

Let me first thank Mrs Oomen-Ruijten and the Foreign Affairs Committee for a very solid and balanced report.

In the EU accession negotiations with Turkey, six chapters have been opened so far. It should be possible to open two more during the Slovenian Presidency; Company Law and Intellectual Property.

Let me recall one simple but fundamental guiding principle of the EU enlargement policy, which applies to any candidate country, including Turkey. The pace of negotiations depends on the progress made in the legal and democratic reforms – and especially on their implementation.

In other words, the technical talks on chapters make up the walls and rooms of the house – maybe even the roof one day – while the legal and democratic reforms constitute the very foundations of any new EU member's construction. And, as every builder knows, one must first make solid foundations before moving on to putting the walls together.

This is why I find Mrs Oomen-Ruijten's report so pertinent. The Commission shares her views on the slow pace of the reforms.

Yet, certain legislative reforms have taken place. I note you welcome the new Law on Foundations. At your request, the Commission will report on the law and its implementation in our next progress report on Turkey.

Moreover, the recent revision of the infamous article 301 is a step forward. What ultimately counts, however, is its proper implementation to guarantee the freedom of expression for everybody in Turkey.

In addition to the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion, further progress is essential in such areas as cultural and linguistic rights, the rights of women and children, and the rights of trade unions. All in all, a renewed focus on EU-related reforms is needed, which should also assist in overcoming the current political crisis.

This is the message President Barroso conveyed during our recent visit to Turkey. Both government and opposition parties should engage in dialogue and search compromise on the sensitive issues dominating the domestic debate. Both secularism and democracy need to be defended.

I regret that the Law on Ombudsman has been blocked for two years by the Constitutional Court. I welcome that you urge it to be unblocked, so as to set up the Ombudsman's Office without delay. We all know how important the ombudsman's function has been to keep authorities accountable and to enhance citizens' rights in the EU member states.

The essence of these reforms is to ensure Turkey's transformation into an open and modern society, with full respect for freedom and democracy, diversity and tolerance – that is, for democratic secularism.

President, Honourable Members,

The very existence of our Union rests on the basic values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights that we share among ourselves. They are the basis of the family spirit and the contract of marriage, as Jacques Delors put it, to which we

Europeans have engaged ourselves.

The Negotiating Framework spells out these values, and it is the Commission's duty to monitor them. The Commission’s role in the accession process can be described as the friend who tells the truth – even if the truth is sometimes unwelcome in parts of the EU or in Turkey.

Thus, we cannot be indifferent to what is happening in candidate countries, least of all on events that affect our shared democratic values. I note your concern about the implications of the AKP closure case. Certainly, the ruling of the Constitutional Court should be compatible with the democratic principles and the rule of law, including the guidelines of Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

We want to see Turkey move on from this case by respecting European values. Turkey cannot afford another wasted year of reforms. We need to see progression, not regression, in meeting democratic principles.

President, Honourable Members,

Let me wind up with a few words on Cyprus. Now it is time for the leaders of the two communities end the deadlock and move towards reunification of the island. I trust Turkey will fully contribute to a solution. The Commission endorses a renewed UN process and will fully support both communities on the island to make the necessary compromises.


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