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EUROPE > Free media, right to assembly key values for EU, says Finland’s FM

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomija emphasizes the need for Turkey to aspire to the highest democratic standards, including the freedom of all media, calling on authorities to investigate cases of disproportionate use of force and bring those responsible to account

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Serkan Demirtaş Serkan Demirtaş serkan.demirtas@hdn.com.tr

Underscoring the need for Turkey to aspire to the highest democratic standards and practices, including the freedom of all media, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomija called on Turkish authorities to investigate cases of disproportionate use of force and bring those responsible to account.

“Turkey, as a candidate country for EU accession, needs to aspire to the highest democratic standards and practices which include the freedom of all media,” Tuomija said in a written interview with the Hürriyet Daily News a day before his scheduled visit to Turkey for bilateral talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The Finnish minister’s remarks were upon a question on the state of freedom of media in Turkey which has been a growing concern for the European Union.

It’s been more than 50 years since Turkey began talks with the EU for joining the club. What is Finland’s view with regard Turkey’s accession process?

Finland is and has always been firmly committed to Turkish EU membership. Turkey’s future is in Europe, and Finland looks forward to further progress with its accession negotiations and opening of new negotiating chapters. Turkey plays a crucial role in the region and globally, and Turkey’s accession would contribute to European stability and prosperity as a whole. We see the talks as a win-win process.

The perspective of EU membership is a powerful stimulus for positive reform and transformation process in Turkey and can inspire also other countries in the neighborhood. At the same time, Turkey can play a constructive role in foreign policy and we see a lot of potential for developing cooperation and coordination between the Union and Turkey in this field.

Turkey has significant economic potential. Europe is facing huge economic challenges and trade with Turkey offers opportunities for businesses and investments on both sides. It is noteworthy that the EU is still the main source of investments to Turkey.

I am hopeful as regards the recent efforts of the European Commission and Turkey to agree on the path toward visa liberalization, linked to broader cooperation on migration. Promoting people-to-people contacts is one of the priorities of our foreign policy. It is crucial that businessmen, students, tourists and other Turkish citizens can move freely in Europe. We very much hope that the EU and Turkey can take concrete steps forward also in this area.

Turkish officials blame the EU countries for implementing double-standards when it comes to Turkish accession process, citing unilateral blockage on the opening of chapters by some member countries. What is Finland’s point of view with regard to the Cyprus government’s attempts to hijack Turkey’s accession process?

It is true that not all EU countries have always treated Turkey fairly. This said, the Cyprus question is fundamental. As we see it, it would be in the interest of all parties to solve the Cyprus problem before the status quo becomes too permanent.

Finland has a historical interest in the solution process. My father, Sakari Tuomioja, served as a U.N. mediator for Cyprus in 1963. During the Finnish presidency in the EU in 2006, we worked hard on the solution. It is our sincere hope that now time would be ripe for a new reunification effort. In the current situation, it is substantial that all involved parties show political will and readiness to compromise.

Perhaps the natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean could be utilized as a positive incentive to the process – just as coal served to unify European countries when the European Coal and Steel Community was founded?

There are growing concerns on the state of freedom of expression in Turkey as dozens of journalists have been either fired or prosecuted for their critical pieces. How does Finland evaluate these concerns?

The freedom of expression as well as the right to assembly are defined liberties by the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey, as a candidate country for EU accession, needs to aspire to the highest democratic standards and practices which include the freedom of all media. These questions are always a key part of accession discussions with the candidate countries.

The Turkish government was fiercely criticized because of the security forces’ use of disproportionate force on activists in June during the Gezi Park demonstrations. Do the scenes broadcast by the media fit a country aspiring to join the EU?

As I have stated before, democracy requires dialogue and debate to reach out to all segments of society. Regarding recent protests, this is an important moment for Turkey. We expect the cases of disproportionate use of force as well as violence to be investigated within the Turkish law in a transparent way and those responsible brought to account. Turkey’s commitment to the European values is of vital importance for the accession process. Enhancing respect for fundamental rights is a continuous process not only in Turkey. More and more emphasis is put on reinforcing democratic accountability in the EU-countries, as well. Recently, Turkey has made some very important steps forward. I highly appreciate the Turkish Government’s efforts to build up new trust through the Kurdish peace process. This process is a big challenge and historical opportunity. The new constitution of Turkey is expected to be the next crucial reform when prepared in a conciliatory way.

On the bilateral front, what are your concrete proposals in order to deepen political, economic and trade relations with Turkey?

We are happy to witness Turkey and Finland celebrating next year 90 years of friendship agreement signed in 1924. We see a lot of potential for deepening trade relations.

September/18/2013

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