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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Opening remarks in EP debate on Turkey
European Parliament, Brussels
Brussels, 28 March 2012
Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
I would like to thank the Parliament, and in particular Ms Oomen-Ruijten for her good and balanced 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.
Last Friday, High-Representative Ashton and I met Ministers Davutoglu and Bagis, and we had a very positive and open political dialogue. Once again, I realised that we have much more in common at the strategic level than we have differences. We discussed our ever closer foreign policy dialogue and progress related to the political criteria, and in particular agreed to work concretely and constructively to make the positive agenda a reality.
The positive agenda is there to provide a realistic and feasible way to inject new life into EU-Turkey relations in general, and into the accession process in particular, and I wish to thank you for your support as expressed in the resolution we discuss today. Let me emphasise again that this agenda is to complement, not to replace the accession process.
The positive agenda means renewed efforts in a number of key areas, including the support for political reforms in Turkey, such as the alignment with our acquis, a closer cooperation on visa and migration and a closer dialogue on foreign policy. All are underlined in your resolution.
I am happy to tell you that since the Member States endorsed the positive agenda last December we have made very good progress in putting it into practice.
The Commission and Turkey have agreed to work on eight chapters, including the chapters on company law, on information society and media, on judiciary and fundamental rights and on justice, freedom and security. We have also agreed to work on bringing the relevant Turkish legislation closer in line with the EU acquis.
Working groups will be set up for each chapter in May/June. The Commission services will use kick-off meetings to update Turkish authorities on all developments regarding the acquis. And of course we will involve stakeholders, as appropriate, at further stages of the process.
Work continues also in other areas of the positive agenda. As regards energy for instance, Turkey and the Commission have agreed to set up a joint working group, which will develop a roadmap by May to identify the concrete actions for intensified cooperation.
Turning now briefly to some recent developments in Turkey which are also reflected in the resolution: I have welcomed the overall consensus on the need for a new constitution – which emerged after the general elections last June.
The concrete work launched by the Turkish Parliament to bring this process forward, including a constructive collaboration of the four main political parties, has started. Obviously, the real test will come with the first discussions on the substance. Consensus through a democratic, participatory process with the broadest possible consultation is essential if this new constitution is to serve all Turkish citizens.
Let me in this context also explicitly refer to the conclusions of the most recent Reform Monitoring Group, held in Istanbul on 16 March. These conclusions list a large number of political reforms already underway or foreseen in the near future by the Turkish government. I would like to single out the intention to table a 4th judicial reform package, which foresees further reforms in the area of freedom of expression and the media.
We hope that this package will address the outstanding core concerns as regards freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial. These issues are rightly underlined as persistent concerns in the resolution you intend to adopt later. We hope that our cooperation with Turkey on these issues, notably as part of the positive agenda will bring the badly needed improvements in legislation and practice.
We will report in the 2012 Progress Report on developments in trials and investigations of alleged criminal networks, as we have done over the past years and as expressly requested in your resolution.
Let me in closing take this opportunity to raise the concerns that civil society in Turkey is increasingly voicing as regards recent developments related to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is intimately linked to the political debate in a country, and thus to the quality and maturity of a democracy.
In a mature democracy, the majority respects and protects minority views and their rights. In a mature democracy, dissenting voices are not ridiculed or pushed into self-censorship, but valued for their contribution to the democratic fabric of society.
In the words of Voltaire: we can disapprove of what someone says, but we need to defend his or her right to say it. If this right is not defended, democracy inevitably withers.
The resolution of this House gives a fair assessment of the important challenges that Turkey is taking on in the area of judiciary and fundamental rights. Only a mature domestic political debate, with full respect for dissenting voices, will ensure that these reforms deliver the democratic standards and practices the citizens of Turkey expect. Expect and deserve.