In two resolutions adopted on Wednesday on the progress of Turkey and Montenegro in their EU membership negotiations, Parliament express concern at the "slow progress" on human rights and key reforms in Turkey in 2010, while welcoming Montenegro's official candidate status despite concerns over corruption.
The Cyprus-Turkey deadlock, lack of dialogue among Turkish political parties and the undermining of press freedom and other basic rights in Turkey are the key factors slowing down the country's EU accession talks, said rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP, NL) during the debate.
The resolution, adopted with the support of a large majority of MEPs, welcomes Turkey's adoption of constitutional amendments but stresses that "an overall constitutional reform" is still needed to transform Turkey into a real democracy. MEPs also applaud the recent finalisation of negotiations on a readmission agreement to handle migration. Once this enters into force, the Commission should initiate "a visa dialogue, with particular attention to the matter of entry conditions for business people and students".
Among the main remaining challenges, MEPs list the worrying deterioration of press freedom, including self-censorship of national media and internet sites; the situation of women and rising rates of honour killings and forced marriages; and the lack of protection of religious minorities. "Only limited progress" has been made to ensure their legal protection so that they can own properties, open houses of worship or train clergy, adds the resolution.
The wording and specific demands of the text were hammered out in tough negotiations among Parliament's political groups. During the drafting process by the Foreign Affairs Committee, the EPP group agreed to withdraw an amendment calling on EU institutions to "study the possibility" of establishing a "privileged partnership" with Turkey, as an alternative to full EU membership.
In exchange, the committee avoided mentioning the "common goal of full EU membership" for Turkey, as the socialists would have wished. The final text instead has the same wording as last year, describing the opening of Turkey's accession negotiations in 2005 as the "starting point for a long-lasting and open-ended process".
Montenegro: MEPs favour EU accession talks, worry about corruption
In the second resolution, approved by a large majority, Parliament welcomes the European Council’s decision to grant Montenegro EU candidate country status, expressing hope that accession talks with Montenegro could begin this year. MEPs nevertheless voice several concerns, particularly about corruption, organised crime, discrimination and curbs on media freedom.
"I regret that the Commission insists on a gap between the granting of candidate status and the opening of negotiations," said rapporteur Charles Tannock (ECR, UK). "Montenegro should be judged solely on merit, facts and achievements. The onus is now on Montenegro to meet the EU’s expectations, especially in combating corruption and organised crime". "That said, Montenegro remains a good news story in the Western Balkans", he added.
Parliament welcomes the "general consensus and high priority given to European integration by the government and opposition parties", particularly the work done on finalising Montenegro's legal and constitutional framework and its "good track record in implementing economic reforms".
The resolution emphasises that "corruption is still prevalent in many areas, especially in the construction, privatisation and public procurements sector" and that organised crime, above all money-laundering and smuggling, remains a problem. The House is also worried that "women continue to be under-represented in decision-making processes and in leading positions." While welcoming the "generally good inter-ethnic relations and good general protection of minority rights in the country", MEPs call on the authorities to improve the living conditions of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities.
The resolution also urges "further steps to ensure independence and professionalism of media outlets," and draws attention to the disproportionate fines that can be imposed for defamation, thereby hampering journalistic freedom and independence. MEPs are especially troubled by reported cases of intimidation and violence on journalists and civil society activists, and call for these to be investigated and the offenders prosecuted.
Procedure: Non-legislative resolutions