Turkey’s Preparations for the Accession Negotiations, Speech at the Foreign Relations Committee of the Finnish Parliament, Helsinki, 20 October 2004


Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament, Helsinki, 20 October 2004


Distinguished Members of the Finnish Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is great pleasure and honour for me to address the distinguished Members of the Finnish Parliament. Finland has always played a very important role in the process of Turkey’s membership to the European Union (EU). It was here in Helsinki that Turkey’s candidacy to the EU membership was officially announced in 1999. Again, as we heard before my intervention, it was under the chairmanship of His Excellency Martti Ahtisaari, Former President of the Finnish Republic, that an Independent Commission composed of a group of eminent personalities from various European countries drafted a very important report on Turkey’s membership to the EU. The draft digs deep enough on every subject before drawing any conclusion whatsoever. Therefore it becomes difficult to contradict the conclusions.

In this presentation, I will share with you some information regarding Turkey’s preparations for accession negotiations. I will divide the answer to this question into two parts. One is Turkey’s preparation, not for the accession negotiations as such, but for the EU membership. The second one is for the negotiations per se.

First, the preparation for the EU membership.  Turkey is preparing itself for the EU membership since more than forty years, because it applied for the membership to the then European Economic Community (EEC) as early as in 1959, that is to say immediately after its establishment and long before any of the present candidate countries, and even before the present members except the founding members. There is no other country, either member or candidate, that spent as long time as Turkey to prepare itself for the membership.

In 1963 Turkey signed with the EEC an Association Agreement with the ultimate aim to become full member.

In 1996, Turkey signed a Customs’ Union agreement with the EU.

In 1999 Helsinki Summit, it was decided that “Turkey is acandidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate States”.

Three years later, in December 2002, the Copenhagen Summit went one step further. The chapter of the Council resolution pertaining to Turkey’s membership read as follows: “If the EU Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, the European Union will open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay

On the 6th October 2004, the EU Commission issued a Progress Report on Turkey in which it considers that “Turkey sufficiently fulfils political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened”. 

This background is clear enough and does not leave to the opponents of Turkey’s accession any pretext to substantiate their attitude. No other country laid the foundations of its membership as strongly as Turkey did.

The reforms carried out by Turkey in recent years are not equalled by any candidate country. Using the words of Mr. Verheugen, the Commissioner in charge of Enlargement, “Turkey has achieved in the last 18 months more reforms that in the last 80 years”.

I will briefly outline the most important ones of these reforms:

Constitutional amendments

In October 2001, 34 articles of the Turkish Constitution were amended to meet the Copenhagen political criteria of the EU. The amendments reinforced the constitutional guarantees on individual rights and freedoms including freedom of expression and thought. Pre-trial detention period is reduced to 4 days. The advisory character of the National Security Council is redefined. Gender equality is emphasized.

Legislative amendments

Between February 2002 and June 2004, eight legislative harmonisation packages were adopted in the Turkish Parliament to amend many laws in line with the amendments made previously in the Constitution. The list of amended laws is long. I will cite only the ones that are relatively important.

Turkey signed on 15 January 2003 the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This Protocol provides for the abolition of the death penalty except in cases of war and imminent threat of war. After the ratification of this Protocol, Turkey made the necessary adjustments in its legislation to abolish the death penalty and to delete any reference to it in the entire legislation of the country. This is a major achievement, because Turkey suffered enormous losses in human lives, roughly 33 000 people killed, as a result of terrorist acts. The perpetrators of many of these terrorist acts were captured. The relatives of those who lost their loved ones opposed the abolition of the death penalty. They wanted to see the perpetrators of these terrorist acts punished to death penalty. The government demonstrated a leadership role and made a bold decision by abolishing the death penalty despite these sensitivities.

Another important step taken by Turkey as regards the EU membership is the realignment of the role of the military establishment according to the EU standards. This was achieved by removing the military representative in supervisory bodies such as Higher Education Council and Higher Board of Broadcasting. Furthermore, the military Secretary General of the National Security Council (NSC) was replaced by a civilian. In addition to this, the office that provides secretarial services to the NSC, namely the General Secretariat of the NSC, was entrusted with extensive powers above various civilian authorities. These powers are now brought to a level commensurate with the advisory capacity of the NSC.

Retrial is made possible in case the European Court of Human Rights overrules the final verdict of the Higher Court of Turkey. It is thanks to this amendment that the jailed Parliamentarian Mrs Leyla Zana was retried and eventually released.

Banning of political parties was confined to exceptional cases as it is in various EU countries.

State Security Courts were abolished and their tasks were transferred to the ordinary penal courts.

Jurisdiction of military courts over civilian individuals is reduced.

Learning and teaching of and broadcasting in languages other than Turkish were made possible

The parliamentary scrutiny is extended to cover all military expenditure, including the ones that were kept outside the scope for the reasons of confidentiality of some categories of military expenditures.

The scope of the fundamental rights and freedoms is widened by amending several pieces of legislation in this field. These amendments include the legislation on public gathering, demonstrations, freedom of expression and conscience.

The construction of places of worship, including churches and synagogues, has been facilitated.

The legal impediments are removed for the prosecution of law enforcement officers on charges of torture or ill treatment.

Acquisition of real estate by religious foundations is made easier.

A new Penal Code of 347 articles is adopted to replace the present Code that was inspired from the Italian Penal Code and enacted in mid-1930s.

After the adoption of these reforms by the Parliament, complementary legislative and administrative measures 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 made a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. A document called National Programme, adopted in March 2001, comprised general principles and strategy governing the reforms that Turkey would carry out for accession. Monthly progress reports on the implementation of the National Programme are presented to the Council of Ministers by the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs; 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. Furthermore, senior officials from the above-mentioned three ministries also take part in these meetings together with the Secretary-General for EU Affairs, the Head of the Human Rights Department of the Prime Ministry and the Chairman of the Human Rights Advisory Council.

At the administrative level, an Office is established with the name of General Secretariat of European Union. The task of this office is to coordinate the work of various Turkish public institutions on the questions that pertain to the EU. This office corresponds to Ministries of EU Affairs in various member or candidate countries.

Another step made by Turkey within the framework of the preparations for the EU membership is the establishment of a Commission in the Turkish Parliament with the task of screening the draft laws before they are submitted to the plenary session of the Parliament. This Commission performs standard tasks like the ones in the parliaments of the other candidate countries.

Turkey contributes also to the work of Common Security Defence Policy in it capacity as non-EU member of NATO. The Report of the Independent Commission on Turkey (Ahtisaari Commission) points out on this subject that “For the emerging European Security and Defence Policy, Turkey’s considerable military capabilities and the country’s potential as a forward base would be important and much-needed”. There is a special arrangement between Turkey and the EU regulating the contribution to be made by Turkey until the date it will become full member of the EU.

Turkey is benefiting from various financial programs extended by the EU for candidate or accession countries. In December 2002, the Copenhagen European Council decided to strengthen the Accession Partnership by increasing significantly the pre-accession financial assistance. The Commission proposed 250 million Euro for the year 2004; 300 million for 2005 and 500 million for 2006. Turkey regards these figures as a good start and hopes that the Council and the European Parliament will approve the increase by the end of this year. The level of assistance could be increased in accordance with Turkey’s needs and absorption capacity.  Now that it has become almost certain that the accession negotiations will start in 2005, due regard should be given to Turkey in the preparations for the EU’s post-2006 financial perspectives.

Turkey is a party of the Barcelona Process. The cooperation among the parties of the Barcelona Process did not materialize at the expected level, due to various reasons. However after Turkey becomes a member of the EU, it may give an impetus to this cooperation together with two other countries, namely Cyprus and Malta that were party to this process.

Turkey has participated actively in the work of the Convention for the Future of Europe. On the question of the reference to the Judeo-Christian values and especially on the improvement of the ESDP Turkey made valuable contributions. 

Preparations for the negotiations

Now I turn to the preparations for the negotiations.

The most concrete step taken in this direction is the establishment of a Customs’ Union between Turkey and the EU in 1996. Turkey has thus demonstrated that its industry was able to compete for the last 8 years with the industries of EU-15 countries. Ten countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 have yet to demonstrate that their industries will perform better than Turkish industry when exposed to the unprotected competition of the EU-15 industries.

Second important step is the screening mechanism. According to the standard format, the accession negotiations start with the screening process. This process consists of identifying the divergences between the acquis communautaire and the legislation of the candidate country; drawing up a general timetable for the harmonisation process; and trying to identify possible problems that may be encountered during this process. Furthermore, the chapters of the negotiations are identified and a general outline of the negotiations emerges during this screening process. In other words, the screening process could also be regarded as a de facto starting point of the accession negotiations.

This process is already under way for Turkey since more than four years. As the EU Council did not yet officially decide to open the accession negotiations, this process is not yet called “screening process” in Turkey’s case. It is called a “process of detailed scrutiny”. This process was launched at the meeting of the Association Council on 11 April 2000. Whichever way it is called, it achieves similar tasks as in the screening process.

Eight committees were established to carry out detailed scrutiny in the following fields. They are:

Single Market and competition,

Agriculture and Fisheries,

Trade and Industry,

Economic and Monetary issues, Statistics, movement of capital,

Technological innovations, Training and Research Programs,

Communication, Environment, Energy and Trans-European networks,

Regional Development, Employment, and Social Policy,

Customs, Taxation, Prevention of Drug Abuse and Money Laundering.

29 chapters of the acquis were distributed to these committees. Officials from Turkey and the EU Commission are about to complete the fourth round of their work.

Furthermore there is a database program called “Progress Editor” that was established by the EU with a view to monitoring the screening process in the candidate countries. Since 2000, Turkey is forwarding regularly to this program detailed information regarding the progress achieved under each of the 29 chapters of the acquis.

In other words, since the year 2000, Turkey has been doing partly what the other candidate countries were doing as part of their accession negotiations.

Turkey has initiated an information campaign in the EU countries with a view to explaining to the European public the strategic, political, economic and cultural advantages that Turkey’s membership will bring to the EU.

Finally, the work is underway in Turkey for the establishment of necessary structures to conduct the negotiations. These are the designation of the chief negotiator or appointment of the members of the negotiation teams. However, it will not appropriate to disclose the details of the preparations before the formal decision for the start of the accession negotiations is announced by the December Summit.

To conclude my remarks, I would like to emphasize once more that Turkey has the advantage of having started the preparations decades ago and long before many of the present member or candidate countries. We know that the negotiations will be difficult, but bearing in mind what Turkey has achieved lately as major reforms could be taken as an indication of what it will be able to achieve when the accession negotiations start.

Thank you for your attention.

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