Turkey’s Entry to EU Steady but Slow

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Turkey has made progress in political and economic reforms as it seeks to start talks on European Union membership–but it still has a long way to go–the European Commission says.

"Turkey has begun to address the priorities defined by the revised Accession Partnership," the report said. "Overall–progress has been made–but substantial efforts are still necessary to complete the tasks foreseen for the period 2003-2004."

The 2003 Regular Report on Turkey’s progress towards accession–due to be published on November 5–takes a detailed look at all aspects of Ankara’s implementation of reforms required to qualify for EU accession talks.

If a similar appraisal–to be published at the end of next year–shows it has met all targets set by the EU–the bloc’s leaders could decide to set a date for opening accession talks.

But while this year’s report praises Ankara’s willingness to pass reform–it also makes clear that implementation still lags behind.

"Four major packages of political reform have been adopted over the last year," it notes. "Some of the reforms carry great political significance as they impinge upon sensitive issues in the Turkish context–such as freedom of expression–freedom of demonstration–cultural rights and civilian control of the military," it said.

"However–in spite of some positive developmen’s on the ground–the reforms have produced limited practical effects. So far–implementation has been slow and uneven."

IMPLEMENTATION NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS

The report said rights abuses remained a stumbling block to Turkey’s EU bid–with torture still a source of concern.

"The Government has committed itself to a policy of "zero tolerance" with respect to torture," the report said.

"Legislation in this area has been considerably strengthened. While implementation has led to some concrete results–the situation is uneven and torture cases persist." Although noting progress on international human rights conventions–the report said there were still problems executing judgmen’s of the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey.

The report noted several positive developmen’s on economic reform–but highlighted corruption as a continuing problem.

"Some progress has been achieved in adopting anti-corruption measures. However–surveys continue to indicate that corruption remains a very serious problem in Turkey….80 percent of businessmen believe that corruption is the main obstacle preventing foreign investment," it said. "Progress on structural reforms has been slow–but the implementation of measures adopted in 2001 and 2002 shows encouraging results," it added. One key difficulty in EU-Turkish relations is Cyprus–which is due to join the bloc next May.

CYPRUS RESOLUTION BEFORE EU BID

Turkey must push harder to help reunite the divided island of Cyprus to have a serious chance of starting talks on joining the European Union–an EU Commission official said on Friday.

"If the problem is not resolved by the end of 2004–it will be a serious obstacle to opening accession negotiations," the official told Reuters–speaking on condition of anonymity. "There are plenty of people who won’t like that–but that’s the way it is."

Cyprus is due to join the EU on May 1–2004. The island has been split along ethnic Greek and Turkish lines since Ankara’s troops invaded the north in 1974 following a coup backed by Athens. The EU hopes to see Cyprus reunited before May.

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