European Commission president urges reforms in Turkey to aid EU entry bid
European Commission president urges reforms in Turkey to aid EU entry bid

[JURIST] Turkey must speed up political and social reforms to meet the criteria for accession into the European Union [JURIST news archive], European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] said in a speech [PDF text] before the Turkish parliament Thursday. Barroso applauded recent efforts to reform [JURIST report] the controversial Article 301 [Amnesty backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of the country's penal code, which makes "insulting the Turkish identity" a crime, but stressed that more and faster reforms are necessary:

However, more progress is needed on a number of key issues, such as freedom of expression, democratic primacy in civil-military relations, cultural rights, trade union rights, women's and children's rights. They are part of our common values, they are central to progress and modernity and, indeed, they are also the keys to accession.

Take the example of freedom of expression. It is a basic, fundamental right in any democracy. But it is also indispensable for addressing the problems of today. Like the EU, Turkey is facing a number of security threats including terrorism. Turkey and the EU are both adapting to globalisation and climate change. These challenges may shake up our habits and question our cultural identities, but in any case they invite us to think about our responsibility in the world, our future and our past. Finding the right responses requires imagination and new ideas. It also requires open and frank debates and strong confidence between institutions and citizens.

In this context, it is not healthy in any society if the expression of non-violent opinions leads to indictments and convictions. This is why I am very pleased that the parliament will soon be working on amending article 301 of the penal Code. Article 301 and other similar provisions need to be brought in line with European standards.

Barroso also expressed concern at the March decision [JURIST report] by the Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] to hear a case that could result in a ban on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Additionally, Barroso noted concern over disputes between Cyprus and Turkey since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 [BBC timeline]. EUobserver has more.

In 2006, the Foreign Affairs Committee [official website] of the European Parliament [official website] approved a report taking Turkey to task for slow progress on a variety of legal and other reforms agreed to by Ankara as part of its bid for EU membership. Among other things, Turkey was criticized [press release; JURIST report] for its "persistent shortcomings in areas such as freedom of expression, religious and minority rights, the role of the military, policing, women's rights, trade union rights and cultural rights."