EU ready to assist Turkey’s peace bid

EU ready to assist Turkey’s peace bid

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
EU ready to assist Turkey’s peace bid

Jean-Maurice Ripert, the EU’s top envoy to Turkey, says the Union is ready to assist if Turkey asks help in economic and social issues. AA photo

With the militants starting to retreat from Turkey as part of the ongoing peace process, the European Union has announced its readiness to provide financial support to Ankara for the economic and social development of the Southeastern Anatolian region in a move to show its support for the ongoing resolution process.

“We are ready to assist if we are asked to, including the IPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance) that could be used in financing some projects for the social, economic and cultural development of the Southeast,” Jean-Maurice Ripert, the EU’s top envoy to Turkey told Ankara bureau chiefs in a meeting, just a day before Europe Day on May 9.

The IPA offers assistance to negotiating countries with the aim of strengthening institutional capacity, cross-border operations, economic and social development and rural development.

As Ripert’s meeting with journalists came on the day when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants started to pull out from Turkish territories into northern Iraq, the European envoy expressed Brussels’ views on the process in a very detailed manner. Citing the ongoing peace process and the government’s continuation of political reforms as two main developments that brought momentum to Turkey’s EU accession process, Ripert said they sincerely believed that this course would bring Turkey closer to meeting the Copenhagen criteria.

Hailing the third and fourth judicial packages the government had passed to improve the implementation of the rule of law in Turkey, the ambassador said, “The EU is in support [of the peace process]. We hope this process will help the peace and security of southeastern Anatolia as well as its social and economic development.”

Responding to questions about the EU’s assessment of how the process was being held, Ripert said the process was owned by the citizens of Turkey but added that, “Politically speaking, we in Brussels welcomed this very courageous decision of Prime Minister Erdoğan to talk with Mr. Öcalan. We certainly hope that this process will lead to an end to terrorism.”

Upon a follow-up question, Ripert said the talks were between the prime minister and Öcalan but Erdoğan was conducting them through the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). However, one point he drew attention to was the fact that the process had gained the support of civil society, with expectations that this would also have a positive impact on the making of the new Constitution.

Solution needed on freedom of media, assembly

Despite the positive developments, there also remain some problematic areas on which Brussels is expecting the Turkish government to take sound steps, such as freedom of expression, right to assembly and so forth.
Ripert said the EU preferred to outline fundamental principles instead of highlighting individual cases, when asked why Brussels remained tight-lipped on many issues such as the security forces’ excessive use of force against protestors on May Day.

“We recognize the progress because if we do not recognize it then the criticisms we make will lose their meaning,” he said, underlining that the EU frequently addressed Turkey’s deficiencies with regard to freedom of expression or right to assembly.

Two individual issues he referred to when asked were the conviction of world-renowned piano player Fazıl Say and the security forces’ use of excessive force against protestors on May 1.

Ripert recalled that Erdoğan had called 2013 a year of trust between Turkey and the EU and that there had already been positive steps allowing bilateral relations to gain momentum. President of European Council Herman von Rompuy will visit Turkey on May 23 and enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle is expected to be in Istanbul in early June, both to meet senior Turkish officials, Ripert said, recalling that a new negotiation chapter would be opened at the end of June, after nearly three years of suspension, in a symbolic move indicating the revival of the accession process.