European Parliament to Take Vote on Oostlander Report

During a plenary session of the European Parliament Wednesday–Rapporteur Arie Oostlander presented his report on Turkey’s application for membership to the European Union. The session is will take a vote on Thursday on whether to accept his draft report on Turkey’s entry to the EU.

Characterized as a "balanced report" by some and as a "report rejecting Turkey’s application for membership" by others–Oostlander’s draft been the subject of animated debate; the report includes lengthy discussion on the Armenian Genocide. His report also commen’s on the "exaggerated fear of the undermining of the integrity of the Turkish state and an emphasis on the homogeneity of Turkish culture (nationalism)–together with statism–an important role for the army–and very rigid attitude to religion–which means that this underlying philosophy is itself a barrier to EU membership."

In his Wednesday’s report to the European Parliament–Oostlander presented progress in Turkey’s record towards fulfilling the political criteria for EU membership since 2001–Oostlander said as far as membership is concerned–"the door is open" but added it would be a "rocky road." While Turkey faced the challenge of fulfilling the same criteria as previous candidates for accession–Oostlander was at pains to point out that there were particular problems in the country–especially over such issues as respect for human rights and indeed civic rights in general. Furthermore–the continuing strong presence of the Army in government–as well as limitations on freedoms for ethnic minorities–continued to pose a problem. It was–he said–vital for the Army to step back and allow a civilian government. As he put it–the problem for MEPs and those negotiating with Turkey was to decide who really represented the people. In addition–there were related problems concerning–for example–Cyprus–Armenia and Iraq–while religious freedoms especially for Muslims was still governed by state control. He called on Council to take a clear line on its strategy for negotiations with Turkey. On the positive side–he welcomed the new Constitution and the Army’s intention to withdraw from political life. At the same time–it was important to monitor developmen’s here and indeed progress in developing an impartial civil service and judiciary.

Gnter Verheugen–the European Commissioner responsible for enlargement–stated that recent events had once again shown the geo-strategic importance of Turkey. The Commissioner also stated that a new partnership agreement between the EU and Turkey was under negotiation. Verheugen welcomed recent progress on human rights issues in Turkey and stated that a clear a decision would be taken on Turkey’s readiness for opening negotiations in December 2004. However–the Commissioner underlined that several areas remained concerning; citing the use of torture–the right to meet and speak freely–and the role of the military within politics. He also drew attention to the recent raids carried out by members of the Anti-Terror Forces–accompanied by the Prosecutor of the Ankara State Security Court–against the headquarters and the branch office of the Human Rights Association (IHD) in Ankara.

For the Liberals–Bob van den Bos commented that–while Turkey may have won the Eurovision Song Contest–it certainly had not done enough to win the European integration contest. In this sense–he drew attention to deficiencies in the area of democracy–human rights and the rule of law. He was another speaker to support the downgrading of the role of the Army and indeed felt the Security Council–dominated by the Army–should be dismantled. At the same time–he underlined the need to support the reforms introduced by Prime Minister Erdogan and he looked forward to the implementation of commitmen’s regarding freedom of expression and respect for the Kurdish language. It was still necessary to tackle the question of torture–while relations with Cyprus and Armenia were other factors to be taken into account. He took the view that Turkey would not be joining the EU in the near future and looked forward to a reassessment in the year 2004.

Michael Cashman felt that the debate on Turkey’s application was surrounded in hypocrisy–since if the rules on membership of the Union would be applied strictly–then not only Turkey but also many of the current Member States would not be able to accede to the Union. He stressed that it was important to support the "reformers" in Turkey. He stated that he had recently visited Turkey and he felt that many politicians in Turkey sensed that the EU did not want Turkey to join. He said the sentiment of the debate had only served to underline this feeling.

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