EU praises Turkey reform seeks implementation

CALLS FOR CLOSE MONITORING OF TURKEY’S ‘IMPLEMENTATION’ TO MEET MEMBERSHIP CRITERIA

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The European Commission praised Turkey on Thursday for taking a key step to reduce the political role of its powerful armed forces and said practical implementation of reforms was vital to advance its EU bid. The European Union executive–which must recommend to EU leaders next year whether Ankara has met the political criteria for opening accession talks–welcomed a package of legal reforms adopted unanimously by parliament on Wednesday.

The measures–which included the abolition of some anti-terror laws curtailing freedom of thought and expression–were part of Turkey’s drive to win a date to start membership negotiations from EU leaders in December 2004. "The reform of the structure and functioning of the National Security Council is a significant step towards aligning civilian control of the military with practice in EU member states," the Commission said in a statement. The package strips the military-dominated council of its executive powers and turns it into an advisory body with a civilian secretary instead of a senior army officer.

EU officials say the sprawling–mainly Muslim NATO ally–which witnessed a series of coups by the pro-Western military during the Cold War–is a test case of whether the quest for EU membership can bring about a kind of peaceful "regime change."

The latest reform could raise tension between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)–which has its roots in Islamic movemen’s–and the fiercely secularist army–which forced out a previous Islamist prime minister in 1997.

RIGHTS RECORD CRITICISED

The carefully-worded Commission statement said continuation of reforms showed the government’s determination to pursue legislative changes needed to comply with EU criteria.

Executive and judicial authorities throughout the country had a key role to play in implementing reforms in the spirit in which they were adopted–it said. An EU spokesman’said the Commission was not passing a definitive judgment by welcoming the latest reforms–and would monitor implementation closely in regular reports on Turkey’s progress towards meeting membership criteria.

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