Nov 2, 2007
The EU project continues but those wanting to join must fulfill its strict criteria
A key annual progress report by the European Commission says reforms are slowing down in Turkey, indicating that EU membership is still a distant dream for the countries.
Amid preparations for a new committee on the future of the EU which may try to determine where Europe's frontiers should lie and how much further the bloc should expand, the EU Commission's annual progress report is set to chide Ankara for its lack of progress on reforms.
Almost one year after the EU partially froze Turkey's membership talks, the report -- due to be released next week -- urges Turkey "to renew the momentum of political reforms" and states that "significant further efforts are needed in particular on freedom of expression, on civilian control of the military, and on the rights of non-Muslim communities."
Turkey chastised on freedom of speech
The EU suspended eight chapters of Turkey's 35-chapter EU negotiations package last year, citing Ankara's continuing blockade on traffic from EU member state Cyprus - which is illegal under an EU-Turkey customs agreement – as its main reason. Turkey has made "no progress on normalizing bilateral relations" with Nicosia since then, the draft report states.
Turkey's EU accession bid is one of the most controversial
The EU is also concerned about the continued restrictions in freedom of speech and concludes that "the Turkish legal system does not fully guarantee freedom of expression in line with European standards".
The number of prosecutions of journalists, intellectuals and human rights activists for expressing non-violent opinions is on the rise. The number of people prosecuted almost doubled in 2006 from 2005 and there were further increases in 2007.
More than half of these cases were brought under the Turkish Penal Code and many of those under article 301 which makes it an offense to insult "Turkishness." Together with the murder of a journalist, Hrant Dink, this has helped create a climate of self-censorship the draft document says.
EU worries about Turkish military
Brussels is also unhappy about the fact that "the armed forces continue to exercise significant political influence," in Turkey and that "no progress" had been seen in the area of protection of minorities and ensuring cultural diversity in line with EU principles.
The draft takes an even-handed approach on the Kurdish issue saying that Turkey made "no progress in the area of cultural rights." However it notes that the PKK separatist group is on the EU's terrorist list and talks of a "further deterioration of the situation in terms of attacks by the PKK and other terrorist groups."
Public opinion across the EU is hardening against Turkey's EU membership bid and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France leads a group of countries opposed to full EU membership for Turkey, preferring a looser association with Ankara instead.
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