Turkey’s reform steps praised by EU diplomat

Turkey’s reform steps praised by EU diplomat

Nisan Su Aras ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s reform steps praised by EU diplomat

Maruice Ripert says civil society was important, referring to the events in the Arab world known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The top European Union diplomat based in Turkey has praised the EU full membership candidate for its performance this year, acknowledging the presence of “tremendous progress” while noting certain flaws.

“There are some difficulties, some shortcomings, but at the same time we recognize the tremendous progress that was made this year. The creation of the ombudsman, the creation of the National Institution for Human Rights, the third and fourth judicial reform packages, the law on foreigners, the law on protection of women against violence, the law against financing of terrorism… Those are very important progress,” Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey, said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News on the recent improvements in Turkey’s human rights record and the need to empower civil society.

Ripert’s remarks came late on April 16 on the sidelines of a ceremony launching Sivil Düşün (Think Civil), an initiative funded by EU to boost the efforts of civil society organizations (CSOs) and individual activists in civil society to empower them to be more influential in policy making.

While refraining from comments concerning popular items on the country’s national policy agenda, Ripert said, “I think there is a will in this country. People want to express themselves directly. They don’t want to be told how to do things, we have to accept that. This is difficult for governments; this is very difficult for bureaucrats. I am a bureaucrat; we are being bashed by civil society all the time.”

Ripert said civil society was important, referring to the events in the Arab world known as the “Arab Spring,” and credited civil society in the region. “Look at what happened in the Arab world. What is the basis to the support of the Arab revolutions? It was the citizen, the women in the streets of Tunis, the women and the men in the streets of Cairo.”

Ripert described the mission of the newly launched Sivil Düşün. “Basically, we are here to support the people who want to be more active, to engage in civil society activities with the aim of helping the ones who don’t know how to do it, by providing assistance, helping people to meet, say what they have to say, voice their concerns.”

Sivil Düşün is a program funded by the EU intended to last four years, with a budget of almost 5 million euros, to be granted to CSOs and activists. The funds will be granted directly to the CSOs and activists without any intermediary organizations.

Winding road since 1993

Empowering civil society and improving human rights has been one of the key issues defining Turkey’s relationship with the EU. Improving the human rights record was set forth in 1993 as one of the preconditions for Turkey as a part of the Copenhagen Criteria. Turkey’s reforms and abidance with EU values has been a key item in the EU’s annual progress reports, sometimes with a welcoming and encouraging tone and sometimes with a bitterly critical one.

Last week Parliament adopted the “Bill on Amending Some Laws within the Context of Human Rights and Freedom of Expression,” which has been dubbed the “fourth judicial package” and aims to remedy structural problems in the Turkish judicial system that are related to European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings concerning violations of human rights in Turkey.

“The adoption by Parliament of the long-awaited legislation on anti-terror, which will align the Turkish law with European standards, is overall a very positive development,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said in a statement released shortly after Parliament’s move.

“I expect it will address a number of issues on fundamental rights that were a source of concern over the past years in Turkey,” Füle said, noting certain reservations.