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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Turkey-EU relations: state of play of accession negotiations

67th Meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee

Brussels, 28 November 2011

I would like to thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this meeting today. As you all know by now, Turkey is a country close to my heart. Only two weeks ago, I have completed my 7th visit to Turkey, in less than two years after taking office, which shows my strong dedication to EU-Turkey relations.

I have established close contacts and excellent working relationships with my main interlocutors, and would call Minister Bağis, present today, as much an advisor as a good friend. I am glad to be able to further deepen today my contacts with another important interlocutor, the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which I had the pleasure to address already in October last year.

Throughout my visit to Turkey two weeks ago, the positive agenda found an overall warm welcome among politicians, business representatives and civil society, with the understanding that it does not provide for an alternative to the accession negotiations. I repeat it here once again: the positive agenda is there to complement and support the accession process, and not to substitute it.

The aim is precisely to build on the achievements of the accession process and our joint interest, and thus give a new momentum to our relations which go through a difficult phase.

This means renewed efforts and cooperation in a number of key areas where there is still room for progress and where we have much more to gain by working together than arguing. These areas include support to political reforms in Turkey, the continued alignment of Turkey's legislation with the EU acquis, addressing important trade issues, closer cooperation on visa and migration, a closer dialogue on foreign policy, energy and the fight against terrorism and an enhanced participation of Turkey in EU programmes.

To be a success, the positive agenda must bring real benefits to both sides. It must also reinforce the strong fundamentals of EU-Turkey relations. I would like to give three concrete examples:

  • First, we want to convince Member States to put short-term measures into practice to improve visa issuance to Turkish applicants, and I am aware of the impatience of the Turkish business community on further progress in this area. Under the existing EU Visa Code that is being implemented, measures such as the harmonisation of supporting documents (which has been done recently); visa fee exemptions for certain categories; extended consular coverage in Turkey by Schengen Member States and a more consistent delivery of multiple entry visas can already bring very concrete benefits to Turkish citizens wishing to travel to the EU.

In parallel, we encourage Turkey to develop a dialogue with the EU on visas policy, mobility and migration, including illegal migration, to finalise working arrangements with FRONTEX and to initial and sign the readmission agreement which was negotiated with the EU.

  • Second example, we aim to take a good look at the Customs Union, and see how we can take concrete steps to have a more effective functioning Customs Union. We need to ensure the Customs Union can remain a key part of our strong fundamentals by addressing in parallel both the current trade irritants (including a more effective way we settle any disputes) as well as Turkey's concerns regarding the Free Trade Agreements which the EU concludes with third countries.

  • Thirdly, we want to strengthen our cooperation in combating terrorism. The EU strongly condemns terrorist acts and understands Turkey's concerns. Turkey too needs to make steps to intensify cooperation with the European Union. For instance, a proper law on the protection of personal data would open the door to an effective cooperation with Europol, the European Union's police cooperation, and Eurojust which promotes coordination between judiciaries. In addition, Turkey still lacks a proper legislation against financing of terrorism, in line with international (FATF1) requirements.

This is the essence of the positive agenda, an agenda to bring the European Union and Turkey ever closer. An agenda to support the Turkish reform process, to expand the freedoms of Turkish citizen's and to enhance their living standards. An agenda to shape our common future. And an agenda to allow the European Union to continue to be the benchmark for reforms in Turkey.

Allow me to say a few words about Turkey's own reform agenda. The Turkish government is in the driving seat to implement this. We learned from previous enlargement rounds, though, including the accession process of my own country, the Czech Republic, that it requires national parliaments to play an active role in the instigation, definition and adoption of reforms in view of the membership bid.

Close cooperation with the European Parliament in this process is vital, to exchange experience on the EU criteria and the acquis.

As representatives of the Turkish and European Union citizens of different social and backgrounds and of different parts of Turkey and the EU, you have a unique role to play. No other institutions represent as well the diversity in the EU and Turkey, and this enables you to understand the needs and demands of our societies and ensure that reforms bring concrete improvements to our citizen's daily lives.

The one issue that will greatly benefit all Turkish citizens is the constitutional reform. Turkey has a truly historic opportunity; the opportunity to upgrade the Constitution to the standards of a modern democracy. To shape a framework that will protect all citizens of Turkey and guarantee their freedoms, whatever their ethnicity, creed, beliefs and lifestyles. Or, as Prime Minister Erdogan has recently said, the new constitution should bring 'the individual, the citizen and freedoms to the forefront'.

This requires the building of consensus through a democratic, participatory process with the broadest possible consultation.

Here, I welcome the progress made on constitutional reform, with work having now started in earnest, based on a constructive collaboration among the four main political parties represented in the Grand National Assembly. I have the feeling all are aware of the historic opportunity that is presented, and of the responsibility to make good use of it.

Beyond work on the new constitution, there are other important matters which Turkey needs to address in urgency. The European Commission's recent progress report identified some of these:

  • the right to freedom of expression in practice, which I already mentioned, and

  • the Kurdish issue and the dangerous situation prevailing in the Southeast of the country

On the issue of freedom of expression, the sources of our current concerns in Turkey are well known: a widespread judicial culture which has insufficiently integrated a number of human rights standards as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. But also a legislative framework, in particular the Turkish criminal code and the anti-terror law, which lead to abuses and do not adequately protect freedom of expression in practice.

I am therefore pleased to hear that the Turkish Minister of Justice, Sadullah Ergin, will be here later today to outline new actions to enhance respect for the freedom of expression in Turkey, including by amending the relevant legislation. Let me also welcome the intention to organise awareness raising activities for prosecutors and judges on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, to avoid a restrictive interpretation of the right to freedom of expression and of media. The Commission will gladly contribute, as foreseen, to the implementation of these activities, notably through the financing instrument for pre-accession.

In this context I would also like to express my gratitude for the very active personal engagement of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr Jagland, in this matter.

My gratitude goes equally to all the members of this House and of this Joint Committee who dedicate their efforts to achieve the same goal of enhancing the freedom of expression in Turkey

It is such common goals that make me confident we have a common future. One we can and must shape together, based on a positive agenda.

Thank you for your attention.

1 :

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body whose purpose is the development and promotion of national and international policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.  The FATF has published 40 + 9 Recommendations in order to meet this objective

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