EU to step up pressure on Turkey to reform

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU candidate Turkey must significantly step up reforms if it is to progress its troubled bid to join the 27-nation bloc, the European Commission is to tell the country, EU officials said on Friday.

“We will make a strong call for Turkey to very seriously speed up reforms,” a European Commission official said of confidential annual progress reports on EU aspirants that will not be made public until November 5.

EU aspirants must undergo wide-ranging political, economic, social and regulatory reforms to adopt EU laws and be on par with other members.

“There has been progress since last year,” the official said, citing the reform of a penal code article inhibiting freedom of speech and the enactment of a law on religious foundations.

“But overall this has not been a year of reforms in Turkey, which has been very busy with the Constitutional court and rulings,” the official said, referring to a public prosecutor’s effort to have the court ban the ruling AK Party.

The constitutional court narrowly rejected the ban in July, but the AK party was fined for undermining secular principles.

The European Commission considers Turkey managed to avoid a major crisis but that this only underlined the importance to undergo constitutional reforms.

“Generally we have the impression that Turkey has put things on the backburner until the March municipal elections,” a second EU official said.

Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but has made only slow progress. Moreover the poor, secular but overwhelmingly Muslim country of 70 million’s decades-old efforts to join the European Union divides the bloc — with countries such as EU President France and Germany very reluctant to let it join the club.

The EU officials said the bloc’s executive will commend Turkey on November5 for the improvement of its relations with Armenia, for its efforts to help stabilize the Caucasus, as well as for some economic reforms, including those aimed at developing the country’s south east.

The EU executive is also set to welcome the relaunch of peace talks on Cyprus, aimed at ending a conflict which has dragged on for decades and troubled Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup. Talks between the leaders of the ethnically divided island started in September.

“This is a crucial moment on Cyprus, there is a potential to solve this very long conflict, we expect a constructive attitude from Turkey,” a third EU official said.

“That would solve many problems it faces in the accession talks,” the official said.

The EU suspended eight of the 35 so-called chapters in the talks in 2006 after Ankara failed to open its ports to traffic from EU member Cyprus.

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