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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Speech at the Chapter 23 Kick-Off Meeting with Turkey

Launch of the Positive Agenda with Turkey

Ankara, 17 May 2012

Having launched the implementation of the positive agenda, we are here now to kick- start the work under what is perhaps the most important chapters, chapter 23. The issues it covers, related to judiciary and fundamental rights, are the essence of the European values and principles on which our societies are built. It covers what we want all citizens to benefit from. What all citizens deserve. Whether in the European Union or in Turkey.

I agree with those that believe it is important to have chapter 23 opened as early as possible, so that Turkey and the European Union have a process within which progress can be made. I regret to say that to date this has not been possible. However, the positive agenda offers an avenue that will indeed allow us to go ahead.

I have mentioned on a number of occasions that the positive agenda is not meant to replace the accession process but to support it. I strongly believe that if we do all we can, results will follow. This will benefit the citizens of Turkey and will contribute to a lasting improvement in the way this country is perceived in our Member States.

Under chapter 23, there are three main building blocks to address: fundamental rights, the judiciary and anti-corruption. I suggest our discussion focuses on these issues.

Let's start with fundamental rights. Turkey has made progress in a number of areas. Every year we painstakingly go through the country's laws and practices and give credit everywhere where credit is due. We will continue to do so with the same professionalism and in the same spirit of partnership. We are not here to criticise or to lecture. We want to assist you as best as we can to achieve progress.

Let me commend you at this point, Minister, on the 3rd judicial reform package. I hope this will be adopted soon by the Turkish Parliament. I also wish in particular to welcome the intention to table a 4th judicial reform package, which foresees further reforms in the area of freedom of expression and the media. This package offers an excellent opportunity to address the outstanding core concerns as regards freedom of expression, the rights to liberty and security, and to a fair trial.

We have closely followed your cooperation with the Council of Europe. I discuss it at every opportunity with Secretary General Jagland and welcome every step of progress made.

Allow me now to define what I think should be the broad lines of the work ahead. This will build on the considerable progress that Turkey has achieved to date and take reforms further.

Turkey needs a framework which would define what the country wishes to achieve in terms of fundamental rights. I understand you have already worked on an action plan that could serve this purpose. I also understand that you are working on another action plan to implement the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

I commend these efforts and I encourage you to accelerate your work, consult with stakeholders and finalise both action plans. These would then constitute Turkey's agreed agenda on fundamental rights indicating the objectives, resources necessary to achieve them and the timing. Needless to say, that we would be ready to be consulted at an appropriate time, to help ensure alignment with EU standards, values and principles. And once finalised I would encourage you to share the results widely with all the stakeholders from the civil society. Because the accountability is a hallmark of a mature democracy.

We would need to address all areas of fundamental rights and freedoms. Let me however focus in particular on some main aspects that we should address.

  • On freedom of expression we will look carefully at both law and practice: to criminal law in need of amendments and to courts' practices in need of revision.

  • As regards freedom of thought, conscience and religion, more needs to be done to address the issues that Alevis and non-Muslims are facing, and to implement the European Court of Human Rights' judgments on conscientious objection.

  • On women's rights, every step needs to be taken to implement the recent law on violence against women; also, to improve the situation on the ground of women in Turkey as regards education, employment and political representation.

  • European Union law explicitly bans sexual orientation as a ground for discrimination. The time has come for Turkish law to align itself.

  • The 2011 amendments to the Law on Foundations have constituted significant progress; they need to be implemented. This will guarantee the property rights of non-Muslim community foundations.

  • Finally, more needs to be done for the protection of persons belonging to minorities, and for cultural rights. As regards the latter, I have in mind mainly matters related to education and use of the mother tongue.

Appropriate institutions are necessary to support these efforts. Turkey has been working for some time for the establishment of an Ombudsman and of a national human rights institution. I would encourage you to accelerate your efforts and establish such institutions that meet European standards as soon as possible.

Let me come now to our second building block, namely the judiciary. I am happy that representatives of the High Council and of the High Courts are here with us today. Many important goals of the 2009 judicial reform strategy have been implemented.

Turkey has a good reform record with the constitutional amendments of 2010 and the legislation that ensued. The central piece has been the establishment of a new, independent High Council of Judges and Prosecutors whose members are mainly elected by their peers. Its independence needs to be safeguarded so that the citizens of Turkey are convinced that an independent judiciary protects their legal rights and freedoms.

The upcoming drafting of a new Turkish constitution gives the opportunity to improve things. I have in mind mainly the introduction of a voting system for judges and prosecutors that would allow representatives of voters from a minority in the High Council.

Work needs to continue and accelerate on criminal justice: unnecessary or long pre-trial detention periods, failures to give detailed grounds on detention decisions, provision of timely information to the public are matters that need to be addressed. Again, it is a matter of trust of the public to the judiciary: justice needs to be done but also needs to be seen to be done.

We should develop these and all other issues in the context of a revised strategy for the reform of the judiciary. I am aware that work has already been launched at the end of last year, with the contributions of peer assessments from the independent European Union experts.

I would like to commend you on your openness. I would also like to encourage you to continue and conclude this effort with consultation of stakeholders, as you have been doing to date. We would be happy to be consulted and contribute, at any time you consider appropriate.

Finally, our last building block: anti-corruption. Political will and commitment are needed to step up efforts in preventing and combating corruption.

Proper legislative framework is essential but it will not bear fruit without effective implementation. This will be only possible with strong and independent institutions dedicated to enhancing transparency and credibility of the anti-corruption efforts.

It is also indispensable to build the track record of investigations, indictments and convictions in corruption related offences.

I mentioned at the beginning that we are not here to criticise; we are here as partners to do all we can to guide your reforms, to help you adopt European standards. We try to provide analysis and assistance tailored to your needs: among other things, eight peer assessment reviews related to all areas of chapter 23 took place last year. Two focused peer assessments were organised this year on the Serious Crimes' courts and on the initial track record of operation of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. These are just a few of the ways in which we can help Turkey to achieve its ambitions for reform.

I would like to thank you for your cooperation and I do hope that this exercise will be beneficial for Turkey.

I am looking forward to the successful launch of the technical work of the chapter 23 working group later today.

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