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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
The 2013 Progress Report on Turkey
European Parliament, plenary debate
Strasbourg, 11 March 2014
President, Honourable Members,
I would first of all like to thank Ms Oomen-Ruijten for the high quality of the report and for her continuous contribution to European Union-Turkey relations as rapporteur of this House over the past seven years.
European Union-Turkey relations are based on a number of strategic foundations. The accession process is certainly the central one. But others are growing in significance, notably:
These are other aspects that make Turkey such a special country for the European Union.
Over the past year there have been positive developments but also reasons for serious concern. On the positive side, we have opened the accession negotiations on the regional policy chapter, the first chapter opened in more than three years. We signed the readmission agreement and launched the visa liberalisation dialogue.
We have also launched the evaluation of the Customs Union to assess its strengths and weaknesses in order to benefit more from our long-standing trade relations. I understand that the report prepared by the World Bank will be presented to the INTA Committee of the European Parliament on 20 March.
The European Union and Turkey continued to engage in an intensive dialogue on foreign policy issues. Last but not least, Turkey also played a key role in the resumption of the Cyprus settlement talks.
Unfortunately, as I said, there have also been reasons for serious concern. They relate first and foremost to the government's response to the recent corruption allegations, in particular the adoption of legislation which affects the functioning of the judiciary and freedom of expression. I have expressed my concerns publicly but also directly to my Turkish counterparts, including Foreign Affairs Minister Davutoğlu and European Union Affairs Minister Cavusoğlu. We will report extensively on these developments also in our forthcoming Progress Report in October.
I intend to continue and even deepen a resolute, patient and frank engagement with Turkey on the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. But in addition, we need to change the way we cooperate in order to ensure that the development in the different policy areas goes into the right direction. We need for instance to work more closely together before legislation is envisaged and drafted. The Commission will approach our Turkish counterparts on this basis in the coming weeks to ensure that we have a common understanding on the principles of our cooperation. This is the only way for the European Union to remain an anchor of reforms in Turkey and to support all those in this country who call for more freedom and democracy.
In the meantime, I will continue to urge the Council to formulate, at last, a roadmap – or, if you would prefer, opening benchmarks -for chapter 23 of the accession negotiations. This is what Turkey itself asks for - so let's take their word for it and let's engage in a constructive dialogue to deliver results on these crucial issues.
President, Honourable Members,
On Turkey I always have good concluding statements prepared but I rarely use them because the debate always makes me think how to react in the best way to the wide spectrum of the views.
Let me offer you a more personal 3 points this time.
First – there is only one way to become a Member State of the EU: to deliver fully on all chapters of the accession process. There is no derogation from fundamental freedoms, rule of law, accountability, separation of powers. There are no interim periods, no shortcuts that would ignore this value based process where conditionality is our main instrument.
What I always expected from this House was to get the right question and help me find the right answer. But you will not help me, neither my successor, if you would keep saying that we should be more demanding on one side but more restrictive as far as opening accession negotiations on the other. Because it is through opening chapters that I could really answer THE most relevant question. And I heard it couple of times before, not really today, do we want the EU to continue to be benchmark for the reforms in Turkey or not?
Second - there is no other way to find a comprehensive settlement to Cyprus issue than along the principles the EU is based on. I am happy to see that also with Turkey's involvement we have been able to see the progress there. Just today the two negotiators have met in the UN protected area and they are going to continue their discussions on Friday and confirmed that the leaders would meet 30 March.
Third – a young boy 15 years old died today, many of you have referred to him, after being in coma for over 260 days as a result of being hit by the gas canister fired by the police during Gezi Park protests. It is an extremely sad but important reminder of the aspirations of the Turkish people, I have had those aspirations in mind and will have those aspirations always as the leading light in my efforts.