Turkish Reforms Fall Short of EU Hopes

ANKARA (Reuters)–European Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Thursday candidate country Turkey’s recent political reforms–aimed at meeting EU standards–fell short of the bloc’s expectations.

Turkey this month amended laws governing free speech as it works to meet European Union membership criteria. The EU–which made Turkey a candidate in 1999–has said membership talks will not begin until Turkey makes strides in its human rights record.

Turkey has said it wants the EU to announce by the end of this year a date for the start of membership negotiations.

"In the Turkish context this (the changes) is an improvement. If you see it in a purely western European context–you will find some problems," Verheugen told reporters after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cemin Ankara.

"You would expect the country to be more forthcoming in certain areas–but I understand it’s a process," he said.

The bloc last year welcomed sweeping reforms to Turkey’s national charter which included lifting a ban on Kurdish language broadcasting and making political party closures more difficult.

Parliament this month changed parts of the penal code to comply with those constitutional changes–including two controversial statutes limiting freedom of expression.

Article 312 bans "inciting hatred" among classes–religions or social classes when such incitement creates a dangerous situation. Article 159 bars mocking Turkishness–the government–armed forces and other branches of the state.

Dozens of journalists–intellectuals and politicians have been jailed for violating the laws–and critics say even after the changes the laws remain vague and open to interpretation.

Turkey must tackle other EU-backed reforms in the coming months–including abolition of the death penalty and changing laws affecting Kurdish television.

"We expect that next steps will address issues that were not addressed by that package. That would be areas like the death penalty," Verheugen said.

"The timing of (the start of membership talks) depends on the progress made here in this country… We will not delay the start," he said.

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