DOES TURKEY MEET THE PRE-REQUISITES TO START ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE EU?
Eurasian Centre for Strategic Research, Ankara, 18 March 2004
Your Excellencies Distinguished Ambassadors,
My Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today and to address this distinguished audience on the subject of the process of Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
The exact title of my address will be the following:
Does Turkey meet the pre-requisites to start accession negotiations with the European Union?
In order to properly address the core question, let us begin by considering what are the Copenhagen criteria of the EU. These criteria consist of two sentences that read as follows:
“Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union”.
You will notice that the criteria contained in this text are of a very general nature and lend themselves to interpretation.
Does Turkey meet these requirements?
For the sake of clarity I would like to offer my comments under two chapters: political and economic criteria.
First, the political criteria. It will be too simplistic an approach to draw up a list of various elements contained in these two sentences and try to see whether they are accomplished in Turkey. These concepts are of a broad nature and one cannot easily say whether they are fully accomplished.
Furthermore the text provides that these are the criteria for full membership. In other words, it does not say that these criteria are also required at the stage of starting the accession negotiations. Therefore, there is no legal obstacle for the EU to start the negotiations with Turkey before these criteria are fully accomplished. In fact, this is what has been done for other candidate countries.
During the 1999 Helsinki Summit of EU, Turkey was recognized officially as a candidate country and the EU Council committed itself to treat Turkey “on equal footing with the other candidate countries”.
This promise was ignored at least on three occasions:
– Firstly, when the compliance with the Copenhagen criteria are put in front of Turkey as a precondition for the start of the accession negotiations.
– Secondly, when implementation of the laws passed by the Parliament was also raised as a precondition to start negotiations.
– Thirdly, on the Cyprus issue.
First, the subject of compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria. There were candidate countries that did not meet the criteria even after the accession negotiations had started. For instance, the Progress Reports issued by the EU Commission for the year 2002 on several so-called accession countries whose name I will not mention, pointed out that the countries in question did not meet the Copenhagen political criteria despite the fact that the negotiations were being conducted with them since two years. In other words, when there is a political will, it is possible to start negotiations before Copenhagen criteria are fully met. I leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey could be considered as having been treated “on equal footing” with the other candidate countries.
On the subject of implementation, it has to be admitted that such a prerequisite was not raised in the case of any of the other candidate countries. Furthermore, discrepancies are unavoidable in the full implementation of legislation. Not only candidate or accession countries, but also full member countries and even the founding members of the EU, have discrepancies in the implementation. We know this because of the lawsuits filed against countries such as Germany, France and United Kingdom for having violated the EU acquis.
I will not claim that, after the reforms are carried out, Turkey has now become a country free from all deficiencies. But the fact remains that Turkey is not treated on equal footings with the other candidate countries.
Therefore we may ask the question again? Is Turkey ready to join the EU. No, it is not ready.
Is Turkey ready to start the accession negotiations? Yes it is ready. At least, it is more ready than many accession countries were at the time when their accession negotiations had started.
This being the fact, Turkey did not want to get stuck to semantic or procedural arguments. Because we believe that Turkey’s admission to the EU cannot be handled like a lawsuit in a penal court. It is a political question. And the final decision will be based on political considerations. Bearing this in mind, and without paying attention to whether Turkey is treated on equal footing or not, it embarked upon a comprehensive and challenging reform effort. It is rightly pointed out by Mr. Verheugen, Commissioner in charge of Enlargement, that Turkey has carried out more reforms in the last two years than in the last 80 years.
The National Programme, adopted in March 2001, comprised general principles and strategy governing the reforms that Turkey would carry out for accession. Significant legislative packages have been adopted and numerous steps were taken. More than 30 articles of the Constitution were amended to eliminate several discrepancies in the field of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms.
The legislative harmonization packages adopted in June and July 2003 –the sixth and seventh reform packages– have further reinforced previous reforms in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms including the abolishment of the death penalty.
– They have ensured a widening of the scope of the freedom of expression by repealing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Act.
– Private broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish are now permitted.
– The construction of places of worship such as churches has been facilitated.
– The application period for the registration of real estate by community foundations has been extended.
– The duties and competences of the Secretariat General of the National Security Council have been aligned with the consultative nature of the Council and with the needs of a democratic executive.
– Parliamentary scrutiny has been extended to cover the use of public assets and public expenditure in the areas outside the budget, including military expenditure.
After the adoption of these reforms by the Parliament, complementary legislative and administrative measures soon followed to ensure their effective implementation. Turkey is fully aware of the importance of the implementation.
This is why the implementation of the reforms is a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. Monthly progress reports on the implementation of the National Programme are submitted to the Council of Ministers; a special Monitoring Group has been established at the political level in order to oversee progress made in the actual implementation of the political reforms. This Group, which is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, includes also the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior. These ministers meet on a regular basis with the aim of defining and addressing issues of implementation.
We have already started to observe the merits of these reforms. For instance, a play on women’s rights has been staged in Kurdish language at a theatre in Diyarbakır. The Diyarbakır municipality has put up announcements, both in Turkish and in Kurdish, on public billboards. The Turkish Minister of the Interior has delivered a speech in Kurdish at a fair in Diyarbakır. A Kurdish language course (of 17 days) was organised at the Hasankeyf Culture and Art Festival in Batman. Such actions would have been punishable by imprisonment under previous legislation.
In view of these significant steps, much of the Copenhagen criteria have now been met and Turkey remains committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the legal reforms.
Furthermore, irrespective of the compliance with the Copenhagen criteria, we believe that Turkey has to carry out such reforms for the sake of improving the standards to be enjoyed by the Turkish people.
I now turn to the economic criteria. These criteria are not pre-requisites for the start of the accession negotiations. Neither the EU raised this issue as a precondition for Turkey. Actually, Turkey is ahead of some accession countries in this respect. To explain this more clearly, let us read once more the phrase pertaining to the economic criteria. It read as follows:
“…the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union”.
I believe that the existence of a functioning market economy is much less questionable in Turkey than in many other candidate or accession countries.
As to “the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union”, Turkey is again ahead of some accession countries, because Turkey has a customs’ union with the EU. As a consequence of this, for a period of 8 years since the entry into force of the Customs’ Union Agreement, Turkey’s industry proved to be competitive with the EU industry. There is no other country that has a customs’ union with the EU.
Furthermore, the accession negotiations with the EU are held on a chapter-to-chapter basis. The compliance with the Copenhagen criteria is assessed separately in each chapter., If Turkey does not comply with the EU standards, for instance, in the slaughtering and processing of the poultry products, it will have to close down such processing units. Similar standards will have to be reached in all other areas including, fishing, forestry, shipping, environment etc. Therefore, it is not relevant to raise such issues before accession negotiations start.
I would not like to conclude my remarks without saying a few words on Cyprus. The question whether Cyprus issue is part of the Copenhagen criteria is raised every now and then. The Strategy Document issued on 5 November 2003 by the EU Commission refers to the Cyprus question in the following words:
“…The absence of a settlement could become a serious obstacle to Turkey’s EU aspirations.”
This wording does not necessarily mean that the Cyprus issue is part of the Copenhagen criteria. However, any reasonable person will have to admit that, whether it is part of the Copenhagen criteria or not, the absence of a settlement will become, sooner or later, a serious obstacle to Turkey’s EU aspirations, for the simple reason that both the Greek Administration of the Southern Cyprus representing “the Republic of Cyprus” and the mainland Greece will be sitting around the table in December 2004 with the power to object the start of accession negotiations with Turkey. I therefore believe that it is not realistic to believe that the settlement of the Cyprus problem has no bearing on Turkey’s accession to the EU.
An important obstacle to the solution is the reluctance of the Greek Cypriot side to agree to any compromise. The EU made a major mistake by admitting Cyprus as a full member before the problem was solved. With this decision, the EU, not only extended a more favourable treatment to the Greek side in Cyprus as compared to Turkey, but also lost its leverage on the Greek side to encourage it to an equitable settlement of the Cyprus problem. The EU will understand better the negative consequence of its decision in case Papadopulos does not show any flexibility during the present rounds of negotiations, or in case the agreed settlement is rejected in the referendum by the Greek side and approved by the Turkish side.
The Turkish Government took a bold step to seek a solution to the Cyprus problem before 1 May 2004, because it believed that the Cyprus problem has to be solved independently from the question of Turkey’s accession to the EU. However, if it is solved before the 1 May 2004, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will also join the EU as one of the component States of the new United Cyprus Republic.
To conclude my observations I would like to point out that, unequal treatment that Turkey was subjected to, did not deter Turkey’s resolve to improve its record on fundamental rights and freedoms and its determination to solve the Cyprus problem.
On the subject of readiness to start the accession negotiations, we believe that Turkey is ahead of the point where several candidate countries stood at the time they started the accession negotiations.
If the EU comes up with new excuses not to start accession negotiations with Turkey, it will have to offer a reasonable explanation for such an attitude.
This concludes my remarks on this subject.
Thank you for your attention.