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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Crucial moment in EU-Turkey relations
Debate on Turkey at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament, Strasbourg
12 June 2013
"I was in Istanbul last week to address a conference on the future of European Union-Turkey relations. The evening preceding the conference, I walked around Taksim Square and Gezi Park. I spoke to the - mostly young - people gathered there.
The people I have seen there are not looters; they are children of Turkey calling for peace, freedom and respect, simply aspiring to speak up and to be listened to. These are typical European youngsters wishing to run their own lives.
At the conference, I condemned the excessive use of force to silence peaceful protests and I asked that those responsible be brought to account.
I conveyed the message that democracy requires debates, consultation and compromise to reach out to all segments of society - democracy is not limited to elections alone.
We are at a crucial moment in European Union-Turkey relations which I believe still have the potential to develop in a more constructive spirit than before. After three long years we are in a position to open a new negotiating chapter and discussion among the member states is on-going. However, for momentum to become sustainable, we need substantive further progress, notably also through further political reforms.
Considering current events and the importance we all attach to supporting Turkey in its reforms, it would in particular be important to overcome the existing blockages on the EU side and to start negotiations on the relevant chapters (23 and 24) as quickly as possible. This is as much in our genuine interest as it is in Turkey's.
How come when we talk so much about fundamental rights and freedoms, the Minister of Justice is asking me again and again: "where is the screening report of Turkey that I can use for further reforms?" And his record of reforms is solid. How come he is asking me to provide him with the benchmarks for opening and closing this important chapter 23? Why do we have to wait for three years to offer not only to the authorities but also to civil society an additional platform for interaction through another chapter to be opened?
We are forgetting that the accession process with each chapter offers an additional platform for that dialogue based on EU values and principles. How do we ensure that the EU remains the benchmark for reforms in Turkey?
I call on Turkey not to give up on values of freedom and fundamental rights, and to do everything to avoid undermining the new momentum we aim at creating in our relations. Because, as the High Representative stated, Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices, which would imply the protection of the rights of all Turkish citizens, irrespective of the majority in Parliament at a given time. Such an approach should obviously include also the young people in Taksim, in Ankara, Izmir and everywhere in Turkey.
In the light of what is at stake, Turkey needs more European engagement, and with it more of European Union standards and values, not less.
I followed the events last night with growing concern. It is crucial that in the following days and weeks a policy of appeasement, dialogue and compromise is implemented and that free media coverage is ensured. Any approach based on confrontation and division is a source of even more serious concern, not only for Turkish society, but also for the European Union. As I said to my interlocutors in Istanbul, dynamism in the accession negotiations and progress in democracy and human rights are two sides of the same coin. One cannot work without the other.
Let me also add that there was no disrespect showed to me by Prime Minister Erdoğan. Last week in Istanbul he listened carefully to me both during the conference and in meeting we had afterwards.
I have not seen any of his comments complaining that I said something afterwards that I had not said at the meeting behind closed doors. I can assure you that I made comments about protesters and about the way how the authorities are going to handle the issue and how this will be a crucial element for reenergising the accession process and finding sustainable momentum. That was the focus of our debate. The only thing I did not share with him was the text of the tweet I sent afterwards about my disappointment by the lost opportunity at the Istanbul conference to reach out to those calling for respect and inclusive dialogue.
Let me conclude by what I said at the end of that conference in Istanbul: We are bound to avoid that the sustainable momentum we want to create is undermined; we are bound to succeed together! Why? Because no one should question the importance of a stable, democratic and modern Turkey for its region and for the European Union as a whole."