EU Says New Turkey Partnership Should Help Reforms

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The European Union formally approved its Accession Partnership with Turkey on Thursday and a senior EU official said it should help stimulate the economic and political reforms Ankara needs to make for membership.

The Accession Partnership sets out the priorities for a candidate country as it prepares for eventual EU membership. Turkey became an official candidate in 1999–but has yet to begin negotiations due to concerns over its human rights record.

“(Adoption of the Partnership) is a clear sign of the Union’s commitment towards Turkey,” said European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said in a statement.

“It will stimulate the much-needed reforms in Turkey not only in the political but also in the economic field.”

The Partnership urges Turkey to overhaul its rickety banking sector–abolish the death penalty–outlaw torture–provide constitutional guarantees for free speech and protect the cultural rights of minorities like the Kurds.

Turkey is expected shortly to publish a program of action outlining how it intends to prepare for eventual EU membership.

Ankara is currently battling a major financial crisis. Verheugen has said this will have no direct impact on its membership bid–though diplomats say privately it will inevitably complicate relations.

Turkey is the only one of 13 EU candidate countries still to begin membership negotiations. Most of the other candidates are from ex-communist central and eastern Europe.

Turkey was accepted as an official EU candidate at the Helsinki summit in 1999.

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