Government firm on reform drive

Government firm on reform drive

Sevil Küçükkoşum KONYA
Government firm on reform drive

Reform efforts must be stronger than ever, Davutoğlu reportedly says. DAILY NEWS photo

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu chaired talks yesterday in Konya on reforms sought by the European Union despite the standstill in accession talks, with EU pressure over jailed journalists high on the agenda.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin and EU Minister Egemen Bağış participated in the meeting of the Reform Monitoring Group (RMG) in the Central Anatolian province, Davutoğlu’s hometown.

“The issue of basic rights and freedoms was on the agenda in the context of EU pressure over lengthy detention periods and jailed journalists,” a source said while the meeting was still under way.

Speaking after the meeting, Davutoğlu said Ergin had briefed the group on preparations for an “action plan on freedom of expression” and other work under way on the problem of lengthy pre-trial detentions.

The ministers also analyzed ways to effectuate what EU Commissioner Stefan Füle called “the positive agenda” which builds on the solid fundamentals of Turkey-EU relations. To this end, the ministers reviewed efforts to facilitate visa procedures for Turkish citizens.

“The ‘positive agenda’ should not replace our EU accession talks. If the EU wants to apply a ‘positive agenda,’ then it should [allow Turks to travel visa-free]. We are waiting for this step immediately,” Davutoğlu said at the press conference.

It was the first time that the RMG had convened since the June 12 elections. The meeting came amid mounting criticism that the government has lost its appetite for reform, as well as growing concern over lengthy pre-trial detentions including those of journalists critical of the government.

The ministers also discussed the parliamentary drive to draw up a new charter for Turkey and how the process could serve to embrace EU norms.

“The reform efforts should be stronger than ever even under the current circumstance,” Davutoğlu said in reference to the virtual halt in Turkey’s EU accession talks that could be exacerbated by a fresh crisis when Greek Cyprus takes over the EU presidency in July.

“The aim of Greek Cyprus is to postpone the EU accession talks as it will take the EU term presidency in 2012. We will not be blindfolded to these maneuvers,” said Davutoğlu.

He also called for the speedy implementation of an action plan of reforms that the Cabinet had adopted in September 2010.

Turkey has vowed to suspend dialogue with the EU during the Greek Cypriot term presidency in the second half of 2012 unless unification talks produce a peace plan between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots before then. Turkey has failed to open any negotiation chapters for the last two years.
Eight of the 35 chapters remain frozen as a sanction over Turkey’s refusal to open its sea and air ports to Greek Cypriot vessels under a customs union pact with the EU. Meanwhile, Croatia, who started negotiations on the same day as Turkey in 2005, has completed all chapters, meaning it will join the EU in 2013.