Tuesday, June 20, 2006

EU leaders urge Turkey to step up reforms

The Financial Times

By Daniel Dombey, George Parker and Tobias Buck in Brussels

Published: June 17 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 17 2006 03:00

Europe's leaders yesterday delivered a stark warning to Turkey to step up its reforms, but decided not to set a tough new condition for EU enlargement.

Meeting in Brussels, the EU's leaders called on Turkey "to intensify the reform process and to implement it fully and effectively" and reminded Ankara that its actions would be scrutinised later this year.


However, they rejected an Austrian proposal to classify the EU's ability to absorb new members - and public perceptions of the process - as a formal "criterion" for enlargement.

The European Commission will still prepare a report on the constraints of the EU's "absorption capacity" this autumn, in the run-up to a summit focusing on enlargement in December.

At the same time, the Commission will assess Turkey's reform record as well as its progress towardsmeeting an EU deadline to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus this year.

In a speech yesterday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister, said he would not make such a move unless a ban on trade between the EU and the Turkish Cypriot community on the north of the island was lifted. "We will never take a step backwards, not in the ports or the airports, without the isolation being lifted," he said.

An EU paper this week said Turkey had made inadequate progress in guaranteeing freedom of expression and religion, and had not put a sufficient check on the political activities of the military.

EU leaders also expressed concern about a criminal investigation of 56 Kurdish mayors in Turkey's south-east for writing a letter that urged Denmark to allow a Kurdish television station based in the country to remain open. Turkey accuses the channel, Roj TV, of being a mouthpiece for the PKK, the militant Kurdish group the EU officially classifies as a terrorist organisation.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish prime minister, described the investigation as "shocking . . . in a country which is seeking EU membership".

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, defended the new emphasis on the union's absorption capacity - though she acknowledged that governments were divided.

"There is a debate," she said. "There are countries such as France, Germany and Austria, for whom this absorption capacity is very important. And there are countries that tend to be more supportive of enlargement who sense this is an additional hurdle."

José Manuel Barroso, Commission president, said it was important for the EU to consider its ability to take in new members, butthat "absorption capacity" should not become another hurdle for applicant countries.

"This is not a new criterion - I repeat, not a new criterion - for new candidate countries," he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006