Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Brussels, EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, European Parliament
Chairmen, Minister Bozkir, Honourable Members,
It is a great pleasure to address this assembly in its new composition following the European Parliament elections and only days after the new Commission has taken office.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the newly elected co-chairs from the European Parliament and the Turkish Grand National Assembly. I have no doubts that they will constructively contribute to the work of this Committee and help improve the overall mutual understanding between the European Union and Turkey.
There should be no doubt about the European perspective of Turkey. The objective does not change, despite the fact that there is a long way to go.
We should use the next five years to prepare as much as possible. I will therefore focus on achieving concrete results that benefit both Turkey, as our partner and the European Union at large.
Allow me to make few remarks about how we intend to achieve this goal and also to share with you my views on EU-Turkey relations.
A key strategic partner
The 2014 Progress Report and the Enlargement strategy, confirm that Turkey is a key, strategic partner for the European Union, and that accession negotiations provide a framework for exploiting the full potential of EU-Turkey relations.
The report gives credit to Turkey for a number of positive steps it took over the past year. Notably, the adoption of laws implementing the December 2013 democratisation package, and an Action Plan for the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, the Turkish Constitutional Court took a number of important decisions strengthening the protection of fundamental rights. The Report also recognises that Turkey has taken bold steps aiming to support a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue.
Areas of concern
At the same time, the report identifies some areas of concern.
The government's response to the December 2013 corruption allegations has raised serious concerns regarding the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and the separation of powers. We regret the restrictive approach adopted with regard to freedom of expression, including the blanket bans on social media, and the right to assembly. While the report welcomes that several of these decisions could be overturned by the Constitutional Court, we once again note the tendency to pass laws and decisions, including on fundamental issues for the Turkish democracy, in haste and without sufficient consultations of stakeholders.
Time to move ahead with further reforms in the area of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms
All this underlines the need to engage in an effective dialogue, both within the country and with the EU, to ensure that further reforms in the area of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms follow European standards.
In the light of these developments, the Commission renews its call to the Council to define the opening benchmarks for chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights, and chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security. The Commission holds that it is in the interest of both Turkey and the EU that negotiations under these two chapters open as soon as possible.
To encourage and support reforms on the rule of law and fundamental rights, we must be consistent and use the most effective and constructive tool at our disposal to improve things on the ground, namely the opening benchmarks for these two chapters. This would provide Turkey with a roadmap for reforms, agreed by all 28 Member States. After all, enhanced cooperation on the rule of law and fundamental rights issues remain the backbone of our future relations.
We have conducted three peer reviews this year on the judiciary, criminal justice and freedom of expression. Recommendations of the reports provide a valuable basis for this cooperation. I believe we need to intensify our dialogue at all phases of policy and law making. We also need to work closely on the assessment of the existing legislation. As a candidate country, Turkey must be fully acquainted with European Union standards and best practices.
Important milestones leading to new opportunities
The progress report also welcomes important milestones in EU-Turkey relations, which give rise to new opportunities. The Readmission Agreement entered into force on 1 October. The visa liberalisation dialogue was launched and the first visa report which builds on several assessment missions was published on 20 October. On this basis, Turkey will strive to fulfil the requirements of the visa roadmap, bringing concrete benefits for both sides.
It is therefore timely that this Assembly chose to dedicate one session to this very important matter.
Need to intensify our dialogue with Turkey on foreign policy and security / Cyprus issue
Furthermore, the Commission calls for an intensification of the dialogue with Turkey in the area of foreign policy and security. The need for this has become dramatically more pressing over the recent months. We acknowledge that Turkey plays an important regional role and we welcome the political dialogue taking place tomorrow in Ankara. The EU continues to encourage Turkey to develop its foreign policy as a complement to and in coordination with the EU, and to progressively align with EU policies and positions.
In this context, it is important to pass clear messages regarding the Cyprus issue. I will elaborate on this in more detail tomorrow in the plenary debate. My main message will be that we expect Turkey to respect Cyprus’s sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone; to show restraint; and to avoid any more statements or actions that could cause more friction. At the same time, it is very important that all parties de-escalate tension and act constructively. We stand firmly behind the UN envoy Espen Barth Eide in his efforts to get the communities in Cyprus to resume the settlement talks.
We very strongly encourage all relevant stakeholders to contribute to a positive climate conducive to a Cyprus settlement for the benefit of all.
Cooperationon the issue of Syrian and Iraqi refugees needs to be stepped up
It is also important that we step up cooperation on the issue of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. We praise Turkey for its enormous efforts accomplished so far, with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees on its territory. The Commission is working on developing an additional package of financial support.
Importance of trade and economic dialogue
Let me also recall that the dynamic economy of Turkey has made a sizeable contribution to the prosperity of the European continent at large and Turkey has also closely benefitted from its close economic partnership with the EU. The EU is the most important trading partner for Turkey: more than 38% of its overall trade is with the EU with Russia coming second with only 8% (China third with 7 % and the US only fourth with less than 5%). Foreign direct investments from EU countries to Turkey amount to 52%. And Turkey is not only an important trading partner, but contributes to EU competitiveness through the Customs Union.
As shown by the World Bank survey earlier this year, the modernisation of the Customs Union can unleash the full potential of our mutual trade relations.
In that vein, it will be important that we strengthen our economic dialogue and far-reaching cooperation in the sectors of mutual strategic importance, such as energy security and transport. In my new role, I will pay particular attention to these areas in order that we secure concrete results for our joint benefit.
Welcome for Turkey's EU Strategy
In view of these numerous opportunities and challenges, it is encouraging to note that Turkey has strongly renewed its commitment to the EU process. The "EU strategy", recently adopted by Turkey on the initiative of Minister Bozkir, re-affirms that the European Convention for Human Rights and the EU acquis will serve as the references for political reforms. The accession process is a crucial anchor for EU-related reforms. In this regard, we welcome the two Action Plans of Turkey's "EU strategy" with detailed measures and timelines up to 2015 and 2019 respectively. It is encouraging to see that the Ministry of EU Affairs will be consulted on all government proposals with a potential impact on EU affairs. I can only welcome this renewed emphasis on the EU as an anchor for reforms.
Potential for enhanced cooperation at all levels
Through the positive agenda initiated by the previous Commission, our relations have been sustained in many areas over the past couple of years.
Simultaneously with our meeting here today, the Director General for Enlargement Christian Danielsson is holding meetings with state officials, political leaders and civil society organizations in Ankara. I am convinced that our multifaceted and intensified dialogue has a great potential to enhance our cooperation even further.
I sincerely hope that Turkey's renewed commitment to pursue further reforms aimed at bringing the country closer to the European Union will continue.
Be assured that the Commission stands ready to assist Turkey in these efforts and maintain our close partnership at the highest level.