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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Speech at the 49th EU – Turkey Association Council

49th EU – Turkey Association Council

Brussels, 19th April 2011

Today, on the occasion of the 49th meeting of the European Union-Turkey Association Council, we had an extensive and friendly exchange of views covering the whole range of EU-Turkey relations.

Visa issues were debated during the informal part of our meeting. I understand the frustration on the Turkish side; therefore, I would encourage them to use the proposal on the table of a visa dialogue.

Let me just stress a couple of points, which we consider particularly important.

I have underlined that political reforms remain at the core of the accession process and I fully share the view of Minister Martonyi that last year's constitutional reform is a step in the right direction.

Once the June elections are over, and a fresh mandate will have been given by the Turkish people, we expect the new government to tackle further the constitutional reform with utmost vigour.

This process should include different political parties, civil society, non-governmental organisations and the general public. It should be inclusive and transparent.

Until then, while parties are in the pre-election campaign, let me call on all sides to allow for a genuine, substantive debate with respect for other views and opinions. In any democracy, elections should allow citizens to choose between competing ideas. This is what pluralism is all about. Turkey's citizens deserve a healthy, rich, fair and open campaign.

We have also raised the issue of freedom of the press. This is of quintessential importance for any candidate or potential candidate country and for the EU. This is also why the Commission will organise a conference on Freedom of expression and media here in Brussels on 6 May. For a democracy to function, voices of dissent and opposing opinions must be heard. We expect the Turkish authorities to do their outmost to enable a pluralistic debate within the country and uphold this fundamental principle.

While we are aware that the latest arrests of Turkish journalists are not a decision by the Turkish government, we have highlighted our concerns about these arrests. We have also reiterated the need for the legal framework in Turkey to effectively guarantee the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in practice and therefore to be reformed.

As regards the accession negotiations, I cannot but stress that it is in everybody's interest to give the negotiations a new momentum.

Turkey has made substantial efforts in order to meet the opening benchmarks on the competition chapter. The Commission has held intense consultations with the Turkish authorities in an effort to provide the necessary support.

Now, we need to accelerate our work. If Turkey takes the few remaining steps in time, the competition chapter can hopefully still be opened under the Hungarian Presidency.

Finally, I have also underlined that the implementation of the Additional Protocol would inject new life into the accession process. A number of chapters could be opened and some even closed relatively quickly.

We can do this together. I am committed to moving forward on Turkey's European path. I look forward to doing this with my Turkish counter parts.

Thank you.

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