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Summary: March 17, 2004: European Parliament - Turkey - political criteria first, negotiations on EU legislation later
Turkey has made many important reforms since last year in order to meet the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership but still needs to go considerably further and rigorously implement the reforms in many areas, said the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday when it adopted a report on Turkey's progress towards accession. Rapporteur Arie OOSTLANDER (EPP-ED, NL) therefore recommended that the EU Member States give absolute priority to the these political criteria before starting negotiations on the adoption of EU legislation. The Commission should, as part of the Pre-Accession Strategy, systematically address the shortcomings in the rule of law and the democratic deficit.
MEPs praised the strong motivation and political will demonstrated by the AKP government and by the great majority of the members of parliament in favour of making reforms that are revolutionary for Turkey, both to meet the political criteria and to improve economic, social and political conditions, but they said that such reforms can only be judged on the basis of how they are put into practice at all levels of the judicial and security system and the civil and military administration. This, however, will be a long process, involving fundamental decisions for which European aid will remain essential. The committee welcomed the constitutional changes laid down in seven "harmonisation packages" but said that a new Constitution was probably needed.
MEPs criticised the continuing influence of the army in politics, business, culture and education, continuing torture practices and mistreatment, the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, the discrimination of religious minorities and the fact that trade union freedom is not fully guaranteed. MEPs also condemned the political persecution of such political parties as HADEP and DEHAP. They were unhappy with the way the trial reopened against Sakharov Prize winner Leyla Zana and three other former DEP members of parliament was progressing and called for an amnesty for them. The government should as soon as possible put a proposal for the abolition of the state security courts before parliament. Turkey should also speed up the implementation of certain cultural rights that allow the education in and use of languages other than Turkish in the media, especially Kurdish. The Kurdish regions should be provided with the necessary means to stimulate their socio-economic development.
MEPs called on Turkey to implement without delay outstanding decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, including in the matter of restoring property rights on Cyprus.
The EU itself must also be prepared for Turkey's possible accession and the consequent new geo-political situation for the EU, MEPs said. The Commission should therefore carry out a study of the impact of Turkey joining, including the need to reform the agricultural and structural funds policies. The EU should have a common security and defence policy with regard to possible new EU external borders and it should do more to support Turkey in the fight against terrorism. Turkey would significantly enhance European security and give EU policy in the region greater authority and effectiveness.
In the end, MEPs said, it will be up to Turkey to decide whether it wants, or will be able, to accept the political principles and values of the EU as appropriate for Turkey's state and society. Greater efforts must therefore be made both to increase knowledge of these values among Turkish citizens and to increase knowledge of Turkey among EU citizens.
Lastly, the Foreign Affairs Committee stressed again that settlement of the Cyprus conflict was an essential condition for progress on Turkey's EU membership application. It also called on Turkey to reopen its borders with Armenia and promote good neighbourly relations with that country.
17.03.2004 Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy
In the chair: Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, D)
Plenary vote: March II, Strasbourg