European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Speech at the meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee
European Parliament/ Strasbourg
Chairmen, Honourable Members,
This is the first time that I address the Members of both houses here in Strasbourg, the symbol of European unification and democracy. Finding common ground has not always been - and is still not always - easy between the countries that make up Europe. However an open debate here in Strasbourg between elected representatives from all over the continent has helped to create common understanding and to take us where we are today. I am convinced that your Committee has the same pivotal role in allowing ever greater understanding and affinity between the European Union and Turkey.
I have come to your committee on various occasions in the past with a message of concern about the pace of the negotiations. Today, my mood is different. Indeed, exactly a month ago Egemen Bağış and I joined in the kick-off of the Positive Agenda in Ankara. The event was marked by a spirit of optimism and pragmatism: we want to work together on issues that bring us closer to our common goal. And the positive agenda is certainly providing new momentum to Turkey's accession process.
Let me provide you with some details. As you know, we have agreed to set up working groups devoted to a specific chapter of the acquis, where Turkey will be offered support and guidance to intensify efforts for further alignment with the European Union acquis. While in Ankara last month, I chaired the first meeting of the positive agenda working group on Judiciary and fundamental rights together with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Egemen Bağış.
I encouraged Minister Ergin to accelerate the work on fundamental rights and on the implementation of the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. I underlined the importance in particular of addressing 3 issues:
First issue - Freedom of expression: criminal legislation needs to be amended and courts' practices reviewed. The third package of judicial reform, currently in discussion at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, would be a step in the right direction, but clearly not sufficient to address the core issue, which is the definition of the crime as such.
Second issue - Freedom of thought, conscience and religion: more needs to be done to address the issues Alevis and non-Muslims face, and to implement the European Court of Human Rights' judgments on conscientious objection.
Third issue - Women's rights: steps need to be taken to implement the recent law on violence against women and to improve the situation on the ground of women in Turkey as regards education, employment and political representation.
We had a very open discussion, and I am particularly optimistic about the willingness of the Ministry of Justice to push forward these important issues. You, as Turkish Parliamentarians, have an important role to play in improving and adopting reforms in this area.
On another issue, we will also soon be launching our concrete work on the positive energy agenda when I meet Ministers Bağis and Yildiz together with my colleague, Commissioner Oettinger, in Stuttgart later this month. Our aim is to enhance cooperation on a number of topics of crucial importance in the energy sector, including
energy mix in the European Union and Turkey,
market integration and development of gas and electricity infrastructures, - - cooperation with neighbouring countries,
renewable energy and energy efficiency,
and nuclear safety.
In the same spirit, I am committed, together with Commissioner Malmström, to make travelling of the citizens of Turkey to the European Union easier. I do agree with those people that say that it is high time, after
almost fifty years of contractual relations through the Association Agreement,
fifteen years of Customs Union and
twelve years as a candidate country,
that Turkey is offered a clear perspective of a visa free regime with the European Union.
At the same time, it is equally important that Turkey engages with the European Union on tackling effectively irregular migration transiting through its territory before entering European Union Member States. To this aim, initialling and signing the readmission agreement which has been negotiated with the Commission is of the essence.
I believe we have a very good opportunity to make progress on these issues, provided we are all willing to accept that striving for perfection is often the enemy of achieving a very good result for both sides.
One more area that I want to mention where we are actively improving our strategic dialogue and cooperation is the area of foreign policy. The European Union and Turkey have much to gain from addressing the common challenges in our neighbourhood together, especially in the context of the deep changes we have been witnessing for the past 18 months in our joint neighbourhood.
The fruitful political dialogue meeting that High Representative Ashton and I held with Foreign Minister Davutoglu and Europe Minister Bağis last week on 7 June in Istanbul demonstrated once again the importance that both the European Union and Turkey attach to our cooperation on those issues.
Let me also explicitly mention how eager we are to build on one of the greatest achievements in European Union-Turkey relations, namely the Customs Union. The Customs Union should be modernised, its functioning improved and its scope expanded.
We are reflecting on how to achieve that, in particular through the establishment of an efficient and fair dispute settlement mechanism, but also through addressing the legitimate concerns of Turkey as regards the Free Trade Agreements which the EU concludes with third countries.
As you see, the positive agenda is very much based on the conviction that we need to intensify our dialogue and cooperation to solve the challenges we face. Our citizens cannot afford that we just pronounce our unconditional positions and let time pass without any progress. Intensifying our dialogue is the only way to find solutions that are mutually acceptable and durable. And that is why your Committee is of great importance to the success of our common project.
Let me conclude by referring to the reforms in Turkey. The concrete work launched by the Turkish Parliament to bring this process forward, including the constructive cooperation of the four main political parties, is a promising start. The Parliamentary committee has now entered the crucial phase of the process, which is to draft the new constitution. I look forward to a rich and constructive debate, which will maintain the inclusive spirit we have witnessed so far.
Allow me to briefly elaborate on this last point, as it is also of greatest importance for any legislation passed which concerns society at large.
We have seen on a number of occasions over the past months that legislative initiatives were launched in Turkey without being preceded by an open debate involving all relevant stakeholders. Allow me to repeat once more that only an integrated process will allow a compromise to be found that respects the diversity of opinions and of lifestyles within Turkish society.
Finally, I wish the political reforms already underway or foreseen in the near future by the Turkish government will quickly translate into concrete action. To maintain this momentum, I hope you as parliamentarians can ensure the swift adoption of the third Judicial Reform Package. This package includes a number of positive steps, but is clearly insufficient to address the core issues which, far too often, limit the exercise of fundamental rights in practice, starting with freedom of expression. The unacceptably high number of journalists in detention in Turkey is a clear sign that a drastic change is needed in this respect – and the sooner the better.
I hope that the fourth Judicial reform package - which is expected to develop freedom of expression and the media – will include substantial changes to the provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Code of Criminal Procedures which are the sources of our concerns today. Be assured that we will devote an even greater attention to these issues than in the past when preparing this year's progress report.
I am looking forward to listen to the discussions today.
Thank you for your attention.