Speech Olli Rehn: hervormingen in Turkije zijn in de eerste plaats van belang voor de Turkse burgers, debat over Turkije (Eurlingsrapport) (en)

dinsdag 26 september 2006


Mr Olli Rehn

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement

”Reforms in Turkey - in the first place it is the interest of the Turkish citizens”

EP debate on Turkey (the Eurlings report)

Strasbourg, 26 September 2006

President, Honourable Members,

Let me first thank Mr Eurlings for his report which includes useful elements for the assessment of Turkey's progress towards accession. I also thank the members of the AFET Committee for their contribution.

Turkey's accession is a matter for constant debate. The momentum for reform has slowed down in Turkey in the past year. I will come back in a moment to the main reforms Turkey must address as a matter of priority.

However, we should not lose sight of the progress accomplished in the last decade, nor of our commitment towards Turkey. The goal of the negotiations started on 3 October 2005 is full EU membership of Turkey, and by its nature it is an open-ended process with no automatism.

This commitment stems from a solid understanding that integrating Turkey to the EU is of mutual benefit. The EU needs, for its own interest, a democratic, stable and increasingly prosperous Turkey. Turkey's strategic significance was once again illustrated by its decision to take part in the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon.

Moreover, Turkey's economic dynamism, its young population, and its potential key role as an energy hub will benefit our future prosperity.

For these reasons, and because Turkey sufficiently respected the political criteria, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations a year ago. This decision was widely supported in this Parliament. Progress in the negotiations, however, does not depend only on progress in the technical talks, but first and foremost on the pace of reforms on the ground related to the Copenhagen political criteria.

In the past twelve months, there has been a lack of progress in this regard. The expectations have risen since Turkey became a negotiating country on 3 October last year. It is therefore all the more important that new initiatives are taken and that tangible progress is still achieved before the Commission will present its report on 8 November.

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of the reforms. Journalists, authors, publishers and human-rights activists still face judiciary proceedings for violations of article 301 of the penal code on the vague grounds of “insulting Turkishness”. In July, the final ruling of the Court of Cassation in the case of Hrant Dink established jurisprudence on the notorious article 301 that violates European standards. Thus, despite the acquittal of novelist Elif Shafak last week, the freedom of expression remains under threat. The judiciary proceedings have a chilling effect and damage the important work carried out by journalists, intellectuals and activists. I have repeatedly expressed my concern of this, latest to Foreign Minister Gül last week in New York. It is now high time that Turkey amends the restrictive articles in the penal code and brings them into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Freedom of expression is indeed a fundamental human right on which any open society is based, and a foundation for modernisation, social progress and solving conflicts between various social groups.

An open and constructive exchange of views is needed in Turkey, including the most sensitive issues. This is necessary both for the democratic process in Turkey and for facing tomorrow's challenges, as well as for Turkey's reconciliation with its neighbours, including Armenia. Reconciliation is a principle that is both the origin and the outcome of the European integration project. I therefore urge Turkey to continue to take concrete steps in this direction.

Freedom of religion is another area where tangible progress is needed. The Law on Foundations, which is currently debated in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, should address the shortcomings. Restrictions applied to non-Muslim religious groups on property rights, management of foundations and training of the clergy must be lifted.

There are also Muslim minorities that face discrimination. The Alevi, a Muslim community of 15–20 million, face legal restrictions to establish places of worship and receive no financial support from the state.

Turning to the Southeast, the spiral of violence undermines positive developments witnessed since the emergency rule was lifted some years ago. Terrorism is a common enemy: Turkey and the EU unequivocally condemn the PKK, and I deeply deplore the loss of innocent lives in the attacks that have taken place throughout the year.

However, a policy based merely on security considerations does not suffice to address the problems of this region. The Southeast faces an aggravated socio-economic situation, not only due to security threats, but also due to high unemployment and poverty. Greater effort is also needed to enhance cultural rights. We expect Turkey to soon adopt, as it has previously announced, a comprehensive strategy targeting all the needs of this region – economic, social and cultural needs.

Let me now turn to Turkey's obligation to respect its commitments. We expect Turkey to fully implement the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Agreement, and adapt it to the accession of ten new Member States.

Turkey should remove obstacles to the free movement of goods, including those on means of transport, which are in breach of the Association Agreement. Hence, Turkey should open its ports to vessels under flag of all Member States, including the Republic of Cyprus. As set out in the Negotiating Framework, the progress in the negotiations also depends on Turkey meeting its obligations. Let me once again reiterate that Turkey's obligations under the Ankara Protocol are not linked to the ending of economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.

The draft report rightly calls on the Council to make renewed efforts to reach an agreement on the trade facilitation regulation concerning the Northern part of Cyprus. The Commission fully supports the efforts of the Finnish Presidency to overcome the stalemate on the trade regulation, thus helping the Council and the EU member states to live up to their commitments. It is also appropriate to underline the continuation of the constructive commitment by Turkey in finding a comprehensive settlement on the Cyprus question, acceptable to both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, based upon the principles the EU was founded.

President, Honourable Members,

To conclude: it is our mutual interest that Turkey pursues its democratic, societal and economic transformation with the goal of joining the EU. If Turkey succeeds, with our consistent support, it can become an ever sturdier bridge of civilisations, at a moment when the relationship between Europe and Islam is the greatest challenge of our time. Turkey is an important benchmark in this regard. It matters for our own future.

While the Commission is prepared to support Turkey along the process, it is ultimately up to Turkey to carry it forward. The extraordinary parliamentary session convened last week (19 Sept) to accelerate the adoption of the 9th reform package is a welcome step. Yet, a more resolute reform process is needed for Turkey to progress on the path to EU accession. In this process, we should remember that – as Prime Minister Erdogan suggests – the Copenhagen political criteria could actually be called the Ankara criteria, since they are there, in the first place, for the sake of Turkish citizens, not merely to please the EU.