Brussels to Give Turkey Deadline to Eradicate Torture

BRUSSELS (Financial Times)–The European Commission will give Turkey a two year deadline to eradicate torture–establish freedom of religion–and assert civilian control over the military if it is to attain European Union membership in about 10 years.

In a sign of how much Turkey will have to change if it is to join the EU–the Commission will provide Ankara with a daunting checklist of almost 150 short term tasks. The document indicates membership talks are likely to be tougher than expected over the next two years–but is also meant to ensure that Turkish reform eases EU voters’ concerns over its potential membership.

Turkish membership is unpopular among many European electorates. Polls this year found that 80 percent of Austrians opposed Turkey’s entry–while only 11 percent of French voters supported it.

Among the priorities–"expected to be accomplished within one to two years," the draft document calls for Turkey to "ensure implementation . . . of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy against torture" and to "adopt a law comprehensively addressing all the difficulties faced by non-Muslim religious minorities and communities."

It adds that in the same time span–the country must "establish full parliamentary oversight of military and defense policy,"abolish any remaining competence of military courts to try civilians," and "ensure the independence of the judiciary."

The proposal–on the "principles–priorities and conditions" of integrating Turkey with the EU–fills in the gaps left by last month’s decision to begin membership talks with Ankara.

The negotiations themselves are not likely to begin until next year and the Commission’s proposals emphasize the need for Turkey to focus on implementation after a series of legislative changes in 2003 to 2004.

Officials in Ankara say they are aware of the scale of the task ahead but there is little sign the government is ready to launch a new set of radical reforms to match those it has already introduced. Implementation of recent reforms is also likely to cause friction with the entrenched bureaucracy and within the criminal justice system.

Olli Rehn–the EU’s enlargement commissioner–is also anxiously awaiting the trial in December of Orhan Pamuk–the Turkish author charged with "denigrating the state" for commen’s about the deaths of Armenia’s and Kurds.

If Pamuk is convicted–many officials fear it will cause the biggest crisis yet in Turkey’s membership bid.

In a nod towards the other looming problem in the talks–the Commission paper calls for Turkey to move towards "normalization of bilateral relations" with Cyprus in the short term.

Although Cyprus can block the membership negotiations–at present Turkey neither recognizes the country’s government nor allows Cypriot ships to dock at its ports–chiefly because Ankara wants to press Cyprus to agree on a settlement for the divided island.

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