Turkey Urged to Respect Rights, Cyprus to Accelerate EU Bid

Turkey’s bid to join the European Union stalled due to shortcomings in democratic reforms and Ankara’s refusal to attend meetings under rotating EU president Cyprus, the European Commission said in a report today.

Cyprus, its northern part occupied by the Turkish army, has used its veto power as an EU member to freeze Turkey’s entry talks since mid-2010. The Cypriot government now holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, making progress before 2013 unlikely.

Since opening entry negotiations in 2005, Turkey has completed talks in only one of 35 EU policy areas. Its failure to advance contrasts with Croatia, which started the process at the same time and is scheduled to join the bloc in July 2013.

“Turkey has frozen its relations with the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU during the second half of 2012, including by refusing to attend any meeting chaired by the Cyprus Presidency,” according to the annual enlargement report, which urged Turkey to show “full respect” of the role of Cyprus’ presidency.

The commission also expressed “serious concerns with regard to Turkish statements and threats,” against Cyprus. Turkey has threatened Cyprus with use of force over a dispute over the ownership of the divided island’s natural resources. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only its south enjoys membership benefits.

Talks under the auspices of the United Nations secretary general to find a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue reached a deadlock in spring 2012. The report says an agreement would boost stability in the region, create economic opportunities and help Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.

Human-Rights Record

Turkey’s bid is also troubled by lack of sufficient progress in improving the country’s human-rights record, the report said.

“There are recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression, assembly and association, through the disproportionate application of the legislation on terrorism and organized crime,” the report said. “ Further restriction of the freedom of the media and the growing number of court cases against writers and journalists remain serious issues.”

The report singled out the Kurdish conflict as a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy, saying “a political solution is urgently required.” The conflict has left about 40,000 people dead since militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK took up arms for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast in 1984.

Price Pressures

On the health of Turkey’s economy, which has grown an average 5.5 percent a year since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party came to power in 2002, the progress report said “sizable external imbalances and significant inflationary pressures remain the largest threats to macroeconomic stability.”

“The high incidence of informal employment, segmented labor markets and the completion of the reform of trade union legislation remain a challenge,” the report cautioned.

Turkey has long been asking the EU relax the visa regime applied to Turkish nationals while the EU insists that Turkey must first sign a “readmission agreement” to accept the return of possibly thousands of illegal migrants who entered Europe via Turkey with the help of smugglers.

“After it was initiated in June, it is now crucial that Turkey signs the readmission agreement to allow for implementation of the visa liberalization road map to start,” the report said.

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