The EU and Turkey will gain from closer ties, given their mutual dependence, Turkey's economic potential and its role as a strategic player in the region, says the foreign affairs committee in a resolution adopted by a large majority on Thursday. However, it calls on Turkey to settle the Cyprus, Armenia and Kurdish issues and for progress with judicial reform and the protection of civil liberties.
MEPs support the fresh, new dynamic approach adopted by the Commission and aimed at moving Turkey closer to meeting the conditions for EU accession. They point out that "Turkey's economy has tripled in size in the past ten years" and is one of the fastest growing in the world. They also underline its role as "a major EU energy corridor for Caucasian and Caspian oil and gas" and its proximity to Iraq's developing crude oil and natural gas markets.
Turkey's strategic role in the region
The resolution, drawn up by Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP, NL) highlights the advantages for the EU of working more closely with Turkey on foreign and neighbourhood policy priorities such as the Middle-East, Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Western Balkans and the Southern Caucasus. It praises Turkey's firm stance on Syria and points to Turkey as a "source of inspiration for democratising Arab States". Its role as a facilitator of dialogue with Iran on its nuclear programme is also underlined in the text.
Need for good neighbourly relations
The committee "insists that Turkey's relations with neighbouring EU member states are a key factor in revamping negotiations and dialogue". It "strongly supports the ongoing negotiations on Cyprus reunification" and asks Turkey to begin withdrawing its forces from Cyprus and comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It regrets Turkey's statements that it will freeze relations with the Cyprus Presidency of the EU if the Cyprus issue is not resolved by the second half of 2012. It also urges Turkey and Armenia to normalise their relations.
Constitutional and judicial reform and civil liberties
MEPs press Turkey to find a political solution to the Kurdish issue. They call for the political, cultural, and socio-economic inclusion of citizens of Kurdish origin and for greater socio-economic development in the south-east, taking the view that the constitutional reform process that is under way in Turkey provides a framework for a democratic opening.
The committee regards constitutional and judicial reform as vital and backs the Commission's new approach of tackling judicial reform, fundamental rights, justice and home affairs issues early in the negotiating process with Turkey, by opening the relevant chapters.
Work on implementing the 2010 constitutional reform package and drafting a new civilian constitution must continue, say MEPs. Reforms are vital to create a fully independent and impartial judicial system and raise standards to the level of the EU.
They point to a worrying decline in media freedom and restrictions on freedom of expression. They also raise concerns over excessively long pre-trial detention periods and numerous trials of journalists. While they praise the conduct of last year's general elections, they call in the resolution for electoral reform, with a reduction in the 10% minimum threshold for representation in Parliament and "the removal of all obstacles to the establishment of political groups in the Turkish Grand National Assembly".
Equality legislation is needed across the board, including efforts to protect religious minorities, give equal rights to women, adopt zero tolerance of violence towards women and children and provide the broadest possible access to education.
The committee underlines the importance of access to the EU for Turkish business people, academics, students and representatives of civil society, pointing out that Turkey is the only EU candidate country that does not benefit from visa liberalisation. It calls for work to begin on visa liberalisation.
The resolution, drawn up by Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP, NL), and adopted by 54 votes to 7, with 2 abstentions, is scheduled for a vote in plenary, on 29 March, in Brussels.
In the chair : Elmar Brok (EPP, DE)