"IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT FOR US TO SEE THAT IN LAW TORTURE IS PROHIBITED. WE WANT TO SEE THE DAY WHEN THERE ARE NO POLICE STATIONS WHERE PEOPLE ARE TORTURED TO DEATH.” – EU’S VERHEUGEN
STRASBOURG (Reuters)–The European Union said on Wednesday it had given Turkey no automatic guarantee to open accession talks in 2004 or thereafter and Ankara must first implement human rights reforms and stamp out torture.
At a summit in Copenhagen last week–EU leaders agreed to review Turkey’s human rights performance in December 2004 before deciding whether to open negotiations. The leaders also formally invited 10 candidates–including Cyprus–to join the EU in 2004.
"No promise has been made regarding (Turkish) membership,” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the European Parliament.
"Several speakers (in Parliament’s debate) said that in the Copenhagen decisions–Turkey has now been promised membership of the EU. I would like very firmly to reject that,” he said.
Denmark holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
Rasmussen said Turkey must meet the EU’s strict political and human rights criteria before it can open the negotiations.
"There’s no question of special treatment for Turkey.”
In the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen summit–Turkey and its NATO ally the United States lobbied hard for the EU to grant a firm date to Ankara to start accession talks. Washington needs Turkey’s support in any possible war against Iraq. Scrap Torture–Curb Army
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said Turkey must stamp out the practice of torture and several MEPs also urged the large Muslim country of nearly 70 million to establish full civilian control over the powerful military.
"It is not sufficient for us to see that in law torture is prohibited. We want to see the day when there are no police stations where people are tortured to death,” Verheugen told the Parliament.
His commen’s contrasted with a confident statement by Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on Tuesday that Turkey would complete human rights reforms to meet EU criteria in 2003 and try to bring forward the start of entry talks.
Turkey passed a package of reforms in August aimed at meeting EU criteria–including easing restrictions on the Kurdish language and lifting the death penalty in peacetime.
More reforms are in the pipeline under the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government which won a landslide election victory in November.
A change in Turkish law to allow the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting came into effect on Wednesday–but only the state broadcaster will be allowed to use it despite pressure from the EU to lift the ban entirely.
Verheugen said he would visit Turkey in January to discuss Ankara’s preparations for eventual membership–including how it plans to spend pre-accession aid it stands to gain from the EU.
Rasmussen also urged the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to sign up to a peace settlement by a February 28–2003–deadline–allowing Cyprus to enter the EU with the nine other leading candidate countries as a reunited island on May 1–2004. Cyprus Hopes
At the Copenhagen summit–UN negotiators failed to secure an agreement that would end the island’s division–which dates back to a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia.
Turkey’s new leadership has signaled a greater flexibility on Cyprus–saying a deal could be possible by February 28. But Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has fulminated against the EU–saying it was trying to create a "Christian fortress” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Verheugen said the Turkish Cypriot part of the island– which has not been involved in Cyprus’s accession negotiations – could be quickly integrated legally into the EU if there were a settlement.
"Technically and legally–this is not a very big problem for us. The big problem is political,” he told reporters.
Noting that Turkey was formally recognized as a candidate in 1999–European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU now needed an open debate about how far its borders should reach.
"The debate about our borders is a debate about our identity,” he told the European Parliament.
Prodi said recently that EU neighbors such as Russia and Ukraine should forge much closer economic and political ties with the bloc–without becoming full members.
"Enlargement cannot be a never-ending process,” he said.