Turkey's democracy emerged stronger, EU expected to say

Turkey's democracy has emerged stronger and its political system is more mature following a highly turbulent election process, the European Commission is expected to emphasize in its report due next month.

Ankara started formal membership talks in October 2005 and the European Commission releases a report on candidate countries' progress in meeting the membership conditions annually.

"The European Commission will give Turkey due credit, where it sees improvement, but it will also criticize Turkey where it sees limited or no progress," said a Turkish official familiar with the issue.

A delegation headed by Ambassador Oрuz Demiralp, Secretary General of the European Union General Secretariat, held talks last week in Brussels with Commission officials on the progress report.

The report is expected to criticize the lack of progress on amending laws ensuring freedoms of religion and expression. Turkey has said it remains fully committed to joining the EU, but key reforms such as amending or scrapping Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which can be used to prosecute writers for "insulting Turkishness," are not likely to be carried out before the release of the progress report in November.

Many analysts and journalists agree that very little has been done as far as meeting EU criteria is concerned, and expect the progress report to be very negative.

The election of a new president, which triggered general elections in July, also had a slowing effect on the reform process.

"The Commission will criticize Turkey for slowing its democratization reforms. But the Commission is also aware that Turkey went through a highly turbulent period due to elections. It will therefore underline the fact that elections have as it could happen in any country stalled reform process," said a Turkish official.

A harsh statement by the armed forces in April helped derail the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) first attempt to elect Abdullah Gьl as president forcing it to call early parliamentary elections. Gьl was elected president following a landslide victory for the AKP at the ballots. The army since then has been issuing warnings on the threats facing secularism. Turkey's military considers itself the ultimate guardian of the secular republic. It has ousted four governments in the past 60 years, one as recently as 1997, that it considered too Islamist. The army suspects the AKP of trying to erode Turkey's secular system.

The standoff between the government and the military is certain to appear in detail in the Commission's report. One of the EU criteria to be fulfilled by Ankara is absolute civilian control over the military. The Commission has been critical of successive Turkish governments in its previous reports regarding the role the military plays in civilian life. As a result of steps taken by the AKP government to curb the power of the military, the criticism has been milder in the 2005 and 2006 reports.

The AKP sharply criticized in April the military threat to intervene in politics, and said the military must remain under civilian control. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn had said the row was "a clear test case whether the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularization and democratic values."

"According to the Commission, Turkish democracy was consolidated and the Turkish political system matured, after this whole turbulent episode. They will reflect this view in the report," said a Turkish official who asked to remain unidentified.

The Commission, the EU's executive arm, will also criticize the flaws in Turkish democracy. "Despite the fact that the Commission understands the election period has had a slowing effect on reforms, it is still concerned that the government's commitment to political reform is weakening," said a Turkish diplomat.

Lack of attention to laws regarding freedom of speech by the AKP draws criticism that the party is being selective in its reform process."It is not acceptable that writers like Orhan Pamuk and Elif Юafak are prosecuted based on this article," Reuters quoted Rehn saying over the weekend about the notorious article 301.

Cases against Pamuk and Юafak were dropped but opponents of the law also said Turkish Armenian editor and journalist Hrant Dink was murdered last year after being singled out because of his prosecution under this law.

In fact sources close to the Commission told the TDN , the prosecution of Dink's murderer will also be mentioned in the progress report, in a highly critical tone.

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