Fresh start 'needed in Turkey’s EU access bid'

Fresh start 'needed in Turkey’s EU access bid'

Fresh start needed in Turkey’s EU access bid

2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari speaks during a meeting in Istanbul. AA photo

A group of European opinion makers has urged an immediate change in Turkish-European Union relations, calling for 2014 to be the year that the sides begin traveling in a new direction.

The Independent Commission on Turkey, headed by 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, yesterday released its third report in Istanbul. 

“In the turbulent times we are living in a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is ever more in the vital interest of the EU and Turkey,” stated the report from the commission, which also includes former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino and former Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van der Broek.

The report said the re-launching of a “credible accession process” could help Turkey’s efforts to cure its internal rifts and accelerate political reform and could have positive effects in three specific areas: Political reforms, the economy and foreign policy.

“The deepening of polarization in the country between political forces as well as between the state and segments of civil society underpins many of the difficulties that Turkey has been encountering in consolidating its democracy,” it said.

In this respect, the commission underlined that starting accession talks on Chapters 23 and 24, pertaining to fundamental political freedoms, including an independent judiciary, would be the best way to exert a positive impact on Turkey’s political reform.

Revitalizing the accession process could also support Turkey in pursuing economic reforms to avert a crisis and progress along the path of economic development, and could maximize the full potential of cooperation between the EU and Turkey on strategic questions such as energy and foreign policy.

“2014 could be the year of a possible new beginning; it is to the interest of the EU; change is imperative for both the EU and Turkey,” said rapporteur Nathalie Tocci.

The report comes at a time of particular challenges in the EU-Turkey relationship, with progress in Turkey’s accession talk stalled.

“We launched the report in Istanbul, not in Europe, because due to the elections coming up in Europe, we know that Europe will be preoccupied internally,” said Bonino, adding that the commission would try to pass its messages across in the second half of the year, when some of the elections would be over and when Italy is set to assume the EU’s term presidency.

Bonino also said the commission’s mission was to put forward strategic thinking, precisely at times when interest in strategic issues appear to be at a low point. Fellow commission member, Austrian diplomat Albert Rohan, on the other hand, said awareness about Turkey’s importance was on the rise and that both the European Parliament and the European Commission believed there was a need to inject a new dynamism into the process.

Ahtisaari said it was a “worthwhile exercise,” despite widespread skepticism. “It is important for the EU to treat Turkey fairly. We have to keep on pushing. This is our task and we feel strongly that it’s a worthwhile exercise,” he added.