The Cyprus-Turkey deadlock, lack of dialogue among Turkish political parties and the undermining of press freedom and other basic rights in Turkey are the key factors slowing down its EU accession talks, say Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs in their resolution, approved on Thursday, on the 2010 progress report on Turkey.
MEPs welcome Turkey’s adoption of constitutional amendments in 2010 as “a step in the right direction” but stress that this cannot be the final solution: “an overall constitutional reform” is still needed to transform Turkey into a real democracy that ensures the protection of basic rights and freedoms, they say.
Among the key remaining challenges, MEPs list:
the worrying deterioration of press freedom, which is leading to self-censorship of national media and internet sites, and criminal prosecution of journalists denouncing human rights violations,
the situation of women and rising rates of honour killings and forced marriages. The government must ensure the application of the law which obliges municipalities of over 50,000 inhabitants to provide shelters for women and minors in danger. Political parties must also find a solution to the headscarf ban in universities, “based on the respect for free choice of women”, and
the lack of protection of religious minorities. “Only limited progress” has been made to ensure their legal protection so that they can own properties, open houses of worship or train clergy. The Kurdish issue and ongoing trial of 151 Kurdish political activists and local mayors is also highlighted.
A question of political balance
The wording and specific demands of the text were hammered out in tough negotiations among Parliament’s political groups. Just minutes before the vote, the EPP group agreed to withdraw an amendment calling on EU institutions to “study the possibility” of establishing a “privileged partnership” with Turkey, as an alternative to full EU membership . In exchange, the committee rejected several amendments by the S&D group that would have explicitly mentioned the “common goal of full EU membership” for Turkey, or called upon Member States to take an “open and constructive” approach to it.
The Committee instead chose the same wording as last year, describing the opening of Turkey’s accession negotiations in 2005 as the “starting point for a long-lasting and open-ended process”.
Tensions with the neighbours
Turkey’s continuing refusal to implement the “Additional Protocol”, signed five years ago, which requires the country to open its airports and harbours to Greek Cypriots, continues to affect the negotiating process. MEPs call on the Turkish government to “facilitate a suitable climate for negotiations by immediately starting to withdraw its forces from Cyprus”, and to open access to military zones and archives to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. The Turkish-Cypriot authorities must also stop new settlements of Turkish citizens on the island, add MEPs.
On Turkey’s problems with Greece, Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs note the intensified efforts by both parties to improve their relations but warn the Turkish government to stop violating the Greek airspace and halt Turkish military flights over Greek islands. Turkey must also “preserve the bicultural character” of Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) islands and improve access to education and property for the Greek minority, they add.