EU Parliament Presses Turkey on Human Rights

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Turkey must improve its record on human rights and the rule of law before European Union member states start talks with Ankara on adopting EU laws–the European Parliament said on Wednesday.

Turkey has been trying to join the EU for decades–and has faced consistent calls to remedy human rights abuses. The bloc is due to decide by the end of this year whether to set a date when accession negotiations may begin.

The entry of any new member state requires the approval of the parliament–but the assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee made clear Ankara had a long way to go–even though the Union is committed to its eventual membership.

Deputies "criticized the continuing influence of the army in politics–business–culture–and education–continuing torture practices and mistreatment–the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders–the discrimination of religious minorities–and the fact that trade union freedom is not fully secured," they said in a statement.

Deputies noted Turkey had made many important reforms since last year to meet the membership criteria–and praised the government’s political will to improve conditions–while saying reforms could only be judged by how they were implemented.

Members of the parliament called on the EU’s executive Commission to press Ankara on these issues.

"The Commission should–as part of the pre-accession strategy–systematically address the shortcomings in the rule of law and the democratic deficit," the statement said.

The Foreign Affairs Committee insisted that settlement of the Cyprus conflict was "an essential condition for progress" in Turkey’s membership bid–and also urged Ankara to open its borders with Armenia.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974–when troops from Turkey occupied the north of the island in response to a coup in Nicosia engineered by the junta then ruling Greece.

The United Nations is brokering reunification talks bringing together Greece–Turkey–and Greek and Turkish Cypriots–to try to unite the island before it joins the EU on May 1.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia–independent since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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