EU Calls for Reform in Turkey

BRUSSELS (–Turkey must scrap draconian laws and speed up the pace of human rights reform if Ankara is to make the EU grade–Brussels has warned.

The European Commission signaled the need for faster reforms in an annual progress report released Wednesday.

"The pace of reform has slowed in 2005," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters on Wednesday. "It still remains uneven and significant further efforts are needed–especially on women’s rights and religious expression."

Rehn set out a five-point plan for Turkey: zero tolerance on torture–improved women’s rights–increased freedom of expression–acceptance of religious equality–and full trade union rights.

The commission has issued Ankara a red card on freedom of speech–citing laws that criminalize the "denigration of Turkish national identity."

"Prosecutors continue to open court cases against individuals who express non-violent opinion on the basis of the new penal code. If this trend continues?the penal code will need to be amended," the commission warns.

Rehn acknowledged that this warning is an "obvious reference to Orhan Pamuk"–the Turkish novelist prosecuted for his commen’s on the Armenian genocide in 1915. Ankara says his remarks insult his country’s national character.

Wednesday’s paper also calls for urgent reform in religious freedoms. Christians and minority Muslim sects continue to complain of restrictions on religious expression throughout Turkey.

"Despite some ad hoc measures–the problems encountered by non-Muslim religious minorities persist and there is an urgent need to adopt legislation in line with the EU," the paper says.

"This is certainly one of the long-standing issues for the European commission in the context of minority rights and religious freedoms," an EU diplomat explained.

However–Rehn congratulated Turkey for its economic progress. The commission confirms that Turkey may now be granted "market economy" status–a vital hurdle on the road to membership.

"The commission has duly rewarded progress by recognizing Turkey as a functioning market economy," he explained before adding–"as long as reform is maintained in the country."

Officials in Ankara hope the new status will enhance confidence in the country’s economy.

"The financial sector remains relatively weak," the commission explained. "EU standards are not entirely adopted–but there is progress towards a more transparent and efficient legal framework."


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