Full address of Mr. Olli Rehn
Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement
EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee
Brussels, 23 November 2005
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Distinguished members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am glad to address this session of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee. You are meeting at an important juncture. The decision of 3 October to begin accession negotiations with Turkey is a historic milestone. Thus, the accession process entered a new stage.
As a first step the Commission and Turkey analyse in detail the laws and policies of the EU and compare them with the legislation of Turkey. This so-called screening process will allow us to find out in which areas Turkey needs to focus efforts in order to align with the EU legislation.
It is worth noting that the accession negotiations are about determining how and when Turkey will adopt the EU acquis; the process is not on whether Turkey will adopt it. Let me be clear on one thing to avoid any future misunderstanding: I have no doubt that Turkey is a great nation. But in the accession negotiations we apply the approach of a former President of a small nation who once said that "there is no such thing as a small nation"--for us in the negotiations, there are no large or small nations. Each and every country must meet the criteria to the letter. There are no shortcuts to Europe, only the regular route.
As I said during my latest visit to Turkey in October, by opening accession negotiations, the EU kept its word and respected its commitment. Now we expect Turkey to honour its commitments; to begin with, as mentioned in the Accession Partnership, Turkey must ensure the implementation of commitments undertaken under the Association Agreement, including the Customs union. This applies in particular to the crucial issue of the ratification and full implementation of the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement, including the lifting of restrictions on Cypriot vessels docking at Turkish ports.
I trust that you have both, the MEPs and Members of TGNA, used this opportunity to discuss the modalities of the ratification process in the respective parliaments. The sooner we have the Protocol ratified and in force, the better conditions we create for progress on the negotiations.
Still on Cyprus: the Accession partnership adopted on 9 November also refers to the need for Turkey to undertake steps towards normalisation of bilateral relations between Turkey and Cyprus. At the same time, it is important that Turkey continues to support efforts in view of a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue within the UN framework.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Eight weeks have passed since the historic decision of 3 October. We rightly celebrated it as the start of a new era for Turkey, Europe and the whole world. But the party is over, and now comes the time of delivery.
As partners and friends we'd better be both fair and frank. In our Progress Report published on 9 November, the Commission concluded that political transition is ongoing in Turkey, and the country continues to sufficiently fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria. It is fair to say that Turkey has conducted bold and significant legislative reforms in the last years, which have now entered into force. But it is unfortunately as fair and frank to say that the pace of changes has slowed in 2005 and the implementation of the reforms remains uneven, to say the least.
Human rights violations continue to occur. The new laws that in principle enhance the rule of law and human rights, must be duly implemented on the ground. In some areas new legislative initiatives must be taken. Most importantly, significant further efforts are required on fundamental freedoms and human rights, particularly on freedom of expression, women's rights, religious freedoms, trade union rights, cultural rights and the zero tolerance policy against torture and ill-treatment.
The crux of the matter is that Turkey should better integrate the reform process into the work of all public authorities. The commitment to further political reforms should be translated into more concrete achievements for the benefit of all Turkish citizens regardless of their origin.
Hence we expect Turkey to tackle the significant shortcomings without delay, in line with the revised Accession Partnership, submitted to the Council on 9 November. The partnership, once adopted, will provide a roadmap for the reforms. Let me highlight some of the short-term political priorities from the Accession Partnership to illustrate the point.
First: Freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, must be fully guaranteed in line with the European Convention of Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The recent prosecutions of novelists such as Orhan Pamuk, journalists such as Hrant Dink and Burak Bekdil, academics such as Professors Oran and Kaboglu, and publishers such as Fatih Tas and Razip Zarakolu, are of particularly serious concern in this context.
They confirm that a number of vaguely worded articles, such as article 301, of the new Penal Code are being used to prosecute and, in some cases, convict, individuals for expressing non-violent opinions. For a European observer, it seems like some nationalist-minded prosecutors find it easier to fight a rearguard action against the reforms through extremely dubious interpretation of the new Penal Code, as if they had not noticed that Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and negotiating for membership in the EU, where pluralism and free speech are basic values which cannot be compromised.
Under these conditions, it appears that the new Penal Code does not provide sufficient protection of the freedom of expression, and the current practice is in the breach of European Convention of Human Rights. In view of the repetition of cases of this type, we expect that the Turkish Government, especially the Reform Monitoring Group, will ensure that the judiciary system functions in line with European standards. It should be made clear to prosecutors that Article 301 of the new Penal Code should be interpreted fully in line with the European Convention of Human Rights. Training programmes for prosecutors and judges to ensure that they fully internalise these principles will also be needed. In parallel, we expect that the Turkish Government takes action to amend the Code to close such loopholes that give too much room of discretion for anti-European interpretations of freedom of expression.
Second: Turkey needs to implement legislation relating to women's rights, particularly the Civil Code, the new penal code and the law on the protection of the family. I welcome the fact that the Turkish courts started to sanction severely the authors of the infamous "honour crimes". However, domestic violence remains an area of concern for women in Turkey, along with a high illiteracy rate, and low participation in Parliament, local representative bodies and the labour market. This was also the conclusion of the recent European Parliament Report on Women's Rights and Gender Equality presented by Mrs Bozkurt, which formulates a number of concrete proposals for improving the situation.
Third: Non-Muslim religious minorities and communities face difficulties that must be addressed through a new law on Foundations, in line with the relevant European standards. The Commission's report found that only very limited progress has been made in this area and that non-Muslim religious communities continue to encounter significant problems: they lack legal personality, face restricted property rights and interference in the management of their foundations, and are not allowed to train clergy. We expect you as legislators to take our recommendations very seriously in this regard before adopting the law. I understand that my assessment is shared by the European Parliament and its rapporteur for Turkey, Mr Eurlings.
Fourth: We expect Turkey to implement the measures adopted in the context of the zero tolerance policy against torture and ill-treatment, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Turkey needs in particular to intensify the fight against impunity and to ensure that prosecutors conduct effective investigations of alleged cases leading to identification and punishment of the perpetrators.
And fifth: Turkey needs to ensure that full trade union rights are respected in line of EU standards and relevant ILO conventions. This concerns in particular the right to organise, the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively. The case of the Teacher's Union Egitim Sen is a litmus test in this regard, and should be addressed accordingly.
Let me add a sixth issue, which has gained further weight in the past weeks, namely the situation in the Southeast. As you may have read yourself from our 2005 Progress Report, very little, or even no progress at all, was made on the issues related to this region: no comprehensive strategy has been developed to address the socio-economic problems; the teaching of Kurdish suffered a serious setback with the closure of several schools; the situation of internally displaced persons remains critical; and the system of village guards has not been abolished.
We are aware of the bad security situation, which is a main obstacle for development of the region. Our report underlines the responsibility of the PKK which has resumed its terrorist attacks in 2004; we condemn terrorism unequivocally. At the same time, this is not an excuse for not addressing the other problems I mentioned. As to the latest incidents in the Hakkari region, we trust, as announced by PM Erdogan, that the Turkish authorities will carry out an in-depth investigation on the matter, and we expect to be duly informed of its results. If security officials are involved in the bombing, severe sanctions must be taken against those responsible for such provocation. The Southeast needs peace, investments, jobs, respect for cultural rights--certainly not violence!
These are some examples of the short-term priorities of the Accession Partnership for Turkey, which constitutes the roadmap for reforms for Turkey. There are many other issues which need to be addressed, too.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me clarify one essential point concerning the philosophy and approach of accession negotiations. They proceed on two parallel tracks, and there must be serious progress on both of them. The first--and let me be clear on this--the most essential and important track is the reforms and their implementation on the ground. It has primacy in our consideration. The progress of reforms determines to a large extent the progress on the second track, namely the legislative and technical conduct of accession negotiations themselves.
If progress in the reforms were to stall or slow down, this would affect the overall climate of the negotiations, and there would be neither need nor meaning for negotiations on policy chapters either. That would be a great shame, but it is now in the hands of Turkey. We need to see concrete progress early on in the negotiations on the short term priorities under the political criteria, to be able to make meaningful progress in the technical negotiations on the acquis communitaire.
For opening the accession negotiations it was enough to meet sufficiently the political criteria, but in order to become a Member State it is necessary to meet them fully. Let me again underline that we expect substantial progress in this regard early on during the process.
Clearly, our 2005 report, while acknowledging the progress made, raises serious concerns. We cannot end up making a similar assessment next year in our 2006 report without that having very damaging ramifications for the conduct of the negotiations. By starting accession negotiations with Turkey the EU kept its word and laid its trust on the continuation of the transformation of Turkey. It is now up to Turkey to demonstrate a real sense of ownership of the reforms. It should not only be the result of outside pressures or rulings by the European Court of Human Rights!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Turkey's EU membership perspective attracts considerable attention and raises many legitimate questions amongst European public opinion. I am also aware that the Turkish public is asking many questions about the EU. The Commission is ready to assist Turkey in efforts to improve mutual understanding with the EU and to overcome misperceptions. This is the purpose of our initiative on the "civil society dialogue".
Turkey's best asset to gain support in public opinion in the EU will be to show unambiguous commitment to democratic transformation and European values. I am convinced that Turkey's progress in implementing the impressive reform programme set out in the Accession Partnership will have a great impact on European opinion.
It is in our mutual interest that this process is framed into clear and rigorous principles based on the values of the EU. This is the best guarantee for success. This is now in the hands of Turkey, Minister Babacan and Dear Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The ball is in your court, and I trust that you will play it wisely.
EUROPA Press Release