STATEMENT BY EGEMEN BAĞIŞ MINISTER FOR EU AFFAIRS AND CHIEF NEGOTIATOR ON TURKEY 2013 PROGRESS REPORT OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
(19 October 2013)
The European Commission published the Turkey 2013 Progress Report and the “Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2013-2014” document, which assesses the developments in candidate and potential candidate countries, on 16 October 2013, the second day of our Religious Holiday.
Religious holidays are very special in our culture. They are the unique sources of inspiration for our people as gates opening to love, peace, friendship, brotherhood, unity and solidarity.
Therefore, we kindly asked the European Union (EU), which is a “union of values”, to change the date of the publication of the Report; however, this was not possible due to the work schedules of the Commission and other candidate countries. Our reluctance to share the evaluation of the Progress Report during the Religious Holiday is essentially a manifestation of our response to this situation.
Hereby, we wish that the Report will be beneficial for our country, our people and our EU accession process.
I would like to begin by indicating that you may access the original Report in English and its Turkish version translated by our Ministry on the website of the Ministry addressed www.ab.gov.tr.
FOR THE FIRST TIME, OPENING OF A CHAPTER HAS BEEN LINKED TO THE PROGRESS REPORT
This is the sixteenth report prepared for Turkey since 1998 and it is different in one aspect from the former ones.
The General Affairs Council, which met on 25 June 2013, reached an agreement on the opening of “Chapter 22 on the Coordination of Regional Policy and Structural Instruments”; however,
the Council also postponed determination of the date for the related intergovernmental conference beyond the publication of this Progress Report.
Linking the launch of negotiations in a chapter to the Progress Report is a first not only in Turkey’s EU accession process but also in the enlargement policy of the EU.
The fact that this Progress Report is free of any negative assessments that may prevent the opening of Chapter 22 is the most significant indicator of Turkey’s determination in the reform process.
OUR FEEDBACK AND CONSULTATIONS HAVE PAID OFF
In coordination with other relevant Ministries and institutions, our Ministry has kept the Commission informed as customary prior to the publication of this Progress Report.
In fact, we have seen that this feedback and our warnings have resulted in the correction of some previous mistakes.
Following its publication, the Ministry of EU Affairs will be coordinating the preparation of a detailed evaluation of this Report together with all relevant institutions, in order to provide the Commission with detailed information on the points that we disagree with.
We acknowledge the Commission as our closest ally in the negotiation process and sincerely believe that the Commission will sustain its constructive position in the negotiations.
Hence, as we do every year, we will carefully consider the reasonable and constructive criticism in the Report and deliberately act to remedy our shortcomings.
THE PROGRESS REPORT IS NOT A SCORECARD
However, it should be understood that the Progress Reports are not scorecards for Turkey. Our people are the only the competent authority to grade our Government on the merits of their own scorecard.
Turkey sets her own objectives in all areas and undertakes sincere efforts to fulfill these objectives.
We have left behind this year the 50th anniversary of the Ankara Agreement that established our close relations with the EU.
Despite all shortcomings, The EU has been a strong source of inspiration for us in drawing our own road map towards the democratization and civilization ideals of our Republic.
THE EU ACCESSION PROCESS HAS BEEN TURNED INTO REAL GAINS BY THE AK PARTY GOVERNMENTS
The EU has been a compass for Turkey in many difficult periods and the integration process has prevented any possible deviations in Turkey’s road towards contemporary civilization.
The AK Party period has long deserved acknowledgement for turning the EU accession process into real gains for our people and EU membership into a concrete and achievable objective.
Our Government is committed to advance the EU accession process which has been characterized by the reforms serving to the objectives of a modern democracy.
It is this determined approach of Our Government that made the past road accidents in the EU accession process forgotten.
TURKEY IS AT THE CLOSEST POINT TO EU STANDARDS
Turkey’s level today regarding democratization, human rights and economic development is indisputably closest ever to the EU standards.
We welcome the recognition of this important fact in the words and spirit of the Report.
Comprehensive reforms designed and implemented by our Government in various areas have secured positive reflections in the Progress Report and the recent Democratization Package announced by our Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been highly praised.
OFFICIAL RECORD OF OUR REFORM COMMITMENT
It would not be inaccurate at this point to consider this Report as an official record of Turkey’s determination for reforms.
The 2013 Progress Report on Turkey is also a “progress document” for the EU in the acknowledgement and appreciation of the reforms implemented by Turkey.
As indicated in the Progress Report, our Government is committed to the democratization process and the reforms. Our eleven-year perspective of reform and change which has never paused will continue with the same determination.
Turkey is changing, developing and transforming. The comprehensive judiciary reforms constitute the most crucial driving force behind this change. The positive impact of the 3rd and the 4th Judicial Reform Packages has been highlighted in the Progress Report.
Bold steps taken by our Government to address the needs of various factions in our society have been highly praised.
THE SOLUTION PROCESS AND THE DEMOCRATISATION PACKAGE
Historical initiatives undertaken by our Government in the solution process have been regarded as vital milestones and progress in the area of cultural rights has been underlined.
In the whole history of the Republic, our Government is the most courageous and the liberal one with regard to protection of minority rights and our steps to this end we have been underlined in the Progress Report.
As we have always emphasized, Turkey has carried out these reforms not for the EU but for the well-being and welfare of her own citizens and will continue to do so.
We perceive all problems of the different faith groups in our country as ours.
Hence, we are making sincere efforts to resolve the problems and to settle the centuries-long disputes.
Thanks to these efforts, all our citizens now enjoy a huge freedom in the liberalized areas of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The intensified dialogue between the state and different faith groups has also been acknowledged by the EU.
In this scope, religion classes have become more encompassing and sensitive towards addressing the demands of all factions in the society. The progress achieved on minority rights and freedom of religion is noted in the Report.
The Report also underlines that a constructive approach has been demonstrated in the area of property rights and the return of properties.
The sensitivity of our Government with regard to property rights has been the strongest in the history of our Republic. We have carried out a significant work in the return of properties. We have returned more than 250 properties to their owners until now. Total value of these properties amounts to 2.5 billion liras.
The return of the property of Mor Gabriel Monastery foundation enabled via the recent Democratization Package was important in terms of respecting the property rights our Syriac citizens.
We welcome the spot light of this Progress Report on the important reforms implemented by Turkey in various areas.
However, as seen in the previous reports, references to the positive steps taken under almost each title are followed by criticism and an account of areas necessitating further progress.
IF PROGRESS REPORTS WERE PUBLISHED FOR EU MEMBER STATES
If progress reports were published for EU Member States today, it is obvious that they would identify many steps to be taken and areas of further reform.
Moreover, today, many of them would be lagging behind Turkey in terms of pace and determination with regard to reforms.
We will make use of the positive criticism in this Report as a guide to our efforts in the forthcoming period.
The reference of the Report to the enlarging area of maneuver for the civil society and to a civil society movement growing on the basis of a vibrant and active citizenry is a significant assessment.
FROM “NATION FOR THE STATE” TO “STATE FOR THE NATION”
Thanks to the steps we have been taking for the past eleven years, Turkey has finalized the tough social transformation and mental migration from the inherited value of “nation for the state” to the notion of “state for the nation”.
We believe that the 2013 Progress Report acknowledges this fact in general.
VIOLENCE IS NOT A MEANS TO CLAIM ONE’S RIGHTS
Hereby, we consider it highly important to emphasize that actions disrupting the peace in our country through recourse to violence and illegal methods can never be seen as a means to claim one’s rights.
THE CONCILIATORY ROLE OF OUR PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER
Both our President and Prime Minister, as well as all the institutions of Turkish administration, have assumed highly compromising and conciliatory roles in handling the democratic demands during past eleven years.
Today we enjoy the most transparent and liberal atmosphere ever in the area of freedom of expression and freedom of the media; our Government will continue to take the necessary steps to further enhance these freedoms.
WE INTRODUCE REFORMS IN CONSULTATION WITH OUR PEOPLE AND WITH THE BROADEST PARTICIPATION POSSIBLE
All legislation enacted and all reforms implemented have been undertaken with the broadest possible consultation with our people and our Government will continue to implement these reforms with the same inclusive, participatory approach.
TURKEY WILL NOT BE A BURDEN ON THE EU, BUT WILL RATHER SHARE IT
In the Economic Criteria section of the Report, it has been underlined that Turkey is a functioning market economy in the context of the Copenhagen Criteria and that our country is a valuable component of EU competitiveness due to the Customs Union.
The successful performance of our economy in the past eleven years despite the global crisis has also been reflected in the Progress Report. In this context, the significant increase in employment is particularly noted.
The relatively less discussed section of the Report- namely “the ability to take on the obligations of membership” - which is however one of the most important dimensions of Turkey’s accession process, also reflects our determined stance towards the process of legal and administrative alignment with the EU.
It should be noted in particular that the EU acknowledges the progress in 32 out of 33 chapters since the last Progress Report.
In this context, we believe that this progress is a confirmation for our Ministry, which is the kitchen for these reforms, with regard to its effectiveness on almost every issue concerning social life.
We have taken critically important steps in many issues with direct impacts in our daily lives. In addition to nearly 2000 pieces of legislation that we introduced since 2002 for harmonization with the EU practices, we have enacted nearly 180 pieces of legislation only last year to this end.
Furthermore, through various legislative and administrative initiatives, we have fulfilled the opening and closing criteria for several chapters and eliminated the technical barriers to opening/closing of the chapters.
Despite all these positive developments, it is not possible on our part to understand the blockages we suffer in the negotiation process.
THE NEGOTIATIONS ARE BLOCKED DUE TO THE ATTITUDES OF SOME MEMBER STATES
As a matter of fact, the European Commission underlined this year that work on the negotiation chapters was interrupted many times as a consequence of the disagreement among Member States.
Thus the Commission also admits that the blockage of the negotiations is not the reflection of Turkey’s technical deficiencies, but of vague attitudes adopted by some Member States during the process.
It is indicated in the Report that the full potential of the EU-Turkey relationship is best fulfilled within the framework of an active and credible accession process and the necessity to accelerate the negotiations is highlighted.
In this context, the most important issue for us today is that the Commission also underlines the necessity to launch the negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24 as soon as possible.
It is inadmissible that the opening criteria regarding these chapters, for which the screening process was completed in 2006, have not been communicated to us despite the fact that we took crucial steps such as the adoption of the Judicial Reform Strategy and the National Anti-corruption Strategy as well as the establishment of the Ombudsman Institution and the National Human Rights Institution.
As a matter of fact, the European Commission authorities can no longer keep silent about this unfairness and make a call for the communication of the opening criteria to Turkey as soon as possible. The Commission’s call to EU Member States is a significant development.
We hope for an end to this ‘eclipse of reason’ on behalf of some EU Member States, along with the removal of the political blockages on the other chapters as soon as possible, thereby strengthening our relations on a stronger basis.
WE WILL NOT BE THE SIDE AVOIDING A SETTLEMENT IN CYPRUS
With regard to the Cyprus issue, we maintain our support for the efforts to find a fair, comprehensive and viable solution within the framework of the Secretary General of the UN’s good offices mission.
Turkey has never been and will never be the party leaving the table or avoiding a settlement.
Our government expects that bold steps we have taken despite all kinds of opposition will be followed by our counterparts as well and we hope that peace will not once again be used as a matter of bargaining for domestic public opinion due to the economic crisis.
WE WILL PURSUE OUR RIGHT TO A VISA-FREE EUROPE
The Progress Report emphasizes the importance of the conclusion of Turkey-EU Readmission Agreement; but our sensitivity about the road map prepared by the Commission is ignored.
We wish to take steps on this issue. However, we regret to have seen many Member States in support of the visa dialogue party to the recently finalized Demirkan case as interveners against visa-free travel.
Visa-free travel to the EU is a right for Turkish citizens.
We know we are right and we know why and for which purposes the Ankara Agreement was concluded 50 years ago. We will pursue our rights arising from this Agreement.
To conclude, we welcome the consideration given to the developments and comprehensive reforms in our country this year in the Progress Report.
We will continue to move forward on the way we consider right with our motto: “No Rest on the Way of the Reforms”.