Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I want to thank honourable Members, first of all, for a very serious and substantive debate on the democratic process in Turkey, and I also want this evening to thank the European Parliament for its contribution to the EU’s policy in relation to Turkey. There has been critical but constructive support for our engagement with Turkey in a very critical period. I think Parliament’s approach – like, I trust, the Commission’s approach – can be described as fair and firm in relation to Turkey and its EU accession process.
Indeed, in my view, we have to be fair and firm and only by being both at the same time can we achieve results. What I mean is that we have to be fair in the sense of maintaining the EU perspective as the critical driver of reforms in the country, keeping our word concerning Turkey’s chance to show that it will be able to meet EU accession criteria. At the same time, we have to be firm by applying rigorous conditionality, especially as regards fundamental freedoms and democratic principles. These two key elements – fairness and firmness – only work together and they cannot be separated from each other. I think that is clearly the best way of supporting a democratic transformation in Turkey, which is our objective, because it makes Turkey a better partner and a prospective possible Member State of the European Union, in line with the negotiating framework adopted in the early hours of 4 October 2005.
The current state of affairs is pretty much a mixed picture, as Joost Lagendijk, the chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU‑Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, described it. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step backward, but better that way than vice versa.
As Mr Duff raised the issue, I think that the Ergenekon investigation is a case in point. In view of the investigation so far, it seems that it was essential that this network behind potential political or other attacks against democracy in Turkey was revealed and will continue to be revealed in the spirit of the rule of law and democratic secularism.
On the other hand, in the recent stages of the Ergenekon investigation, one may question whether all the principles of the rule of law have been truly applied or whether there are some other political purposes behind these arrests. The jury is still out. We are following this very closely and we shall certainly report on this in our forthcoming progress report in the coming autumn.
In my view, three principles are particularly important. First of all, the democratic principles: pursuing constitutional reform, where reform of the rules governing political parties is essential in view of the experiences of last year, this year and previous years, when we have seen the pitfalls of the constitutional framework of Turkey in this regard, as pointed out by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
Second, freedom of expression, which Graf Lambsdorff referred to, is the bedrock of democracy. This was discussed quite recently at the meeting of Parliament’s Joint Parliamentary Committee with the Turkish Grand National Assembly. I am concerned about media freedom and its development in Turkey and we will certainly come back to this as a special section in our progress report in the coming autumn.
Yes, there has been positive progress concerning the consequences of the reform of the infamous Article 301 some one or two years ago. On the other hand, relative progress concerning Article 301 does not justify attacks on media freedom elsewhere, as has been referred to in several statements this evening.
Finally, the rule of law, which is underpinning the functioning of all society and the economy and which is the key value of the European Union: that is illustrated in the fight against terrorism, which we support, as long as it is conducted in line with the rule of law and principles of justice in the best European tradition.
So, the pace of negotiations with Turkey will essentially depend on the progress and intensity of the reforms enhancing fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in the country, in all walks of life and all corners of the country. That is the foundation of the negotiation process. Progress in the technical negotiations will depend on whether there is serious progress in, and intensity and implementation of, these reforms enhancing fundamental freedoms and human rights and democratic secularism. These are enshrined in the Treaty on European Union and in our common European values. That is the critical yardstick of Turkish progress towards the European Union.