Don't miss your chance, EU warns Turkey
Turkey should speed up progress on limiting the power of the military, strengthening freedom of speech and normalizing relations with Cyprus if it wants to move closer to the European Union, a top EU official said Wednesday.
"2008 is a decisive year for the (EU membership) process and therefore Turkey should not miss this chance ... Real progress on the ground will have a direct impact on further measures in the negotiating process," Slovenia's state secretary for European affairs, Janez Lenarcic, told the European Parliament, reported dpa.
Speaking on behalf of the council of EU member states, which Slovenia currently chairs, he stressed the EU's concern over judicial attempts to ban Turkey's ruling AKP party.
"We will follow developments with great attention. We hope that the outcome will correspond to democratic standards and the rule of law," he said.
Turkey has been an EU aspirant since 1987, but its progress has been dogged with difficulties. EU states say that they are concerned by the army's political influence, the country's laws on freedom of speech and its bloody battle with Kurdish separatists.
The recent decision to water down the Article 301, which originally criminalized "insults to Turkishness," is "a constructive shift in the right direction, but proper implementation is needed so that freedom of expression can be truly guaranteed," Lenarcic said.
Moreover, the army "continues to exercise considerable political influence. Civilian democratic control over the military should be reinforced," he said.
Touching on Turkey's battles with separatists in its own south-east and in neighbouring Iraq, he said: "We support Turkey's efforts to protect its population and fight terrorism. At the same time we underline that respecting provisions of international law and preserving regional peace and stability are of key importance."
And he also stressed EU "regrets" that Turkey has not yet normalized relations with Cyprus, an EU member since 2004. In late 2006 the EU suspended all talks with Turkey on trade-related reforms after Ankara refused to open its ports to Cypriot traffic.
However, Lenarcic also said that progress was being made on some issues, and that the EU hopes to start talks with Ankara on more subjects necessary for EU accession in June.