(Eupolitix.com/Zaman)–The European Commission welcomed recent reforms in Turkey–but warned that Ankara still has to do more before negotiations on EU entry can begin.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels on Thursday–EU enlargement chief Gunter Verheugen praised recent developmen’s including improvemen’s in civil liberties and human rights.
"Issues whose mention could previously trigger criminal proceedings–such as the role of the military–the Kurdish language–or cases of torture and ill-treatment–are now freely debated."
"The reform process has brought a new mood of openness and freedom in public debate in Turkey," said Vergheugen. But the Commissioner warned that Turkey had a lot of work to do in terms of reforming the judiciary and the penal code.
He also pointed to continuing human rights concerns that need to be addressed–ranging from the torture of prisoners to the intimidation of people involved in defending human rights.
The European Parliament highlighted the same point in April–citing a litany of concerns ranging from the influence of the army on politics to continuing torture practices.
Several leading center-right parliamentarians also spoke strongly against granting Turkey full membership.
EU leaders decided at a Copenhagen summit in 2002 that formal talks could begin if Turkey met a series of political–economic–and judicial reforms–and made improvemen’s in the country’s human rights situation.
The European Commission will make a recommendation in October as to whether Ankara has reached its goals.
Based on the Commission’s findings–European leaders will then decide in December whether or not to formally open accession negotiations with Turkey.
Verheugen warned the process would be lengthy.
"If the European Council decides to open negotiations with Turkey–accession is not a formality–and not for tomorrow. The negotiations will take time–reflecting the scale of the difficulties in many sectors faced by such a large and complex country. There should be no doubts that the report will be fair and objective."
Meanwhile–Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday praised recent reforms in Turkey–but indicated that its government still needs to address problems of freedom of expression–torture–and freedom of assembly.
HRW particularly emphasized problems in granting freedom of expression–singling out the recent 15 month prison sentence of journalist Hakan Albayrak.