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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the European Parliament on Turkey
European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 8 March 2011
I would like to thank the Parliament, and in particular Ms Oomen-Ruijten for her report on Turkey. This debate and your resolution come at an important time for EU-Turkey relations, and the draft resolution underlines a number of issues of great importance for the Commission.
The Commission remains committed to the accession process with Turkey. The enlargement process encourages political and economic reform in the country.
The EU-Turkey relationship is strong. Turkey needs the EU and the EU needs Turkey – this balance has not changed. The European Union is and will remain a key player for Turkey.
It is based on deep economic integration: 40% of Turkey's foreign trade goes to the EU, and 80% of foreign direct investments in Turkey come from the EU. The European Union efficiently contributes to Turkey's modernisation through technology transfers, Turkey's participation in EU education and research programmes and our pre-accession financial support.
At the same time, accession negotiations have slowed down. Moreover, the negotiating chapters that Turkey can aim to open under the present circumstances require significant reforms and adjustments.
Against this background, I welcome all the more the progress made recently, in particular as regards the competition chapter. I am confident that we can soon open this chapter, provided Turkey fulfils the last remaining conditions.
Obviously, the Cyprus issue weighs on the negotiations. Positive steps on the implementation of the additional protocol to the Ankara agreement or in the settlement talks would have a positive impact on the accession negotiations.
Let me turn now to the reforms in Turkey. I welcomed last year's constitutional reform and the subsequent legislative amendments as steps in the right direction.
Getting the laws right is important. However, only objective and impartial implementation of the new laws will ensure the success of the constitutional reforms.
Turkey should continue with the constitutional reform. The process should be as inclusive and transparent as possible with the active participation of different political parties, civil society, non-governmental organisations and the general public.
The Commission is following with concern the recent actions against journalists. Independence and freedom of the press is of utmost importance for democracy. In its 2010 progress report the Commission has already highlighted the high number of court cases against journalists and undue pressure on the media which undermine this fundamental right in practice.
Freedom of press entails that dissent and opposing points of view need to be heard and - more importantly – tolerated! Freedom of press means guaranteeing a public space for free debate, including on the internet. The European Parliament's draft resolution rightly underlines these issues.
As for the right to freedom of religion, we welcome the initiatives taken in favour of non-Muslim religious communities in Turkey. However, further and systematic efforts are needed to address the problems of non-Muslims and the Alevis.
Let me turn to the issue of migration. Two weeks ago, the Council endorsed the EU-Turkey readmission agreement. This agreement is beneficial for the EU Member States, as Turkey is an important transit country for migration flows to the EU.
The development on the readmission agreement also opens up for the first time new and concrete perspectives for further cooperation with Turkey in the area of visa and migration policies, with a view to improving mobility and contacts amongst our citizens and businesses.
Turkey and the European Union have a shared interest in working closely together in this area. There are many good reasons to increase the ability of Turkish citizens, businessmen and students to travel to Europe:
Mr Chairman I assure you that the European Parliament will be duly involved both on the issue of the readmission agreement and the visa dialogue, in line with the Treaty requirements.
Relations with Turkey have also to be seen in a wider context. Turkey's active foreign policy is a strong potential asset for the European Union, provided it is developed within the framework of Turkey's EU accession process. The European Union stands ready to intensify its existing dialogue with Turkey on foreign policy issues of mutual interest.
Speaking about Turkey today, we cannot ignore the major developments in its wider region. The events in Tunisia and Egypt have highlighted Turkey's stability, prosperity, and democracy.
Citizens in these countries look at Turkey, as they look at the EU: as examples to follow. They watch Turkey advocating standards and values that they are now fighting for themselves and that are associated with Europe.
President, Honourable Members,
Let us be clear: While an example to others, Turkey has still a lot to do. Many of these challenges ahead are outlined in your report. This is the occasion for Turkey to move even closer towards implementing fully the EU political criteria.
The government has a very important responsibility to uphold such a privileged position and to lead by example for the benefit of its own citizens but also for the region as a whole.