Turkeys struggle as a candidate country to join the European Union ("EU"), has gained stream during the last years. Many reforms have been realized especially in areas underlined in the Regular Report on Turkeys progress towards accession pertaining to the year 2003 ("Regular Report 2003"). However, although these legislative reforms are highly appreciated by the EU, full execution of these reforms in practice and perfection of the Copenhagen Criteria are expected before the EU makes its historical decision as to whether or not to declare a date for opening of accession negotiations. This date, which is expected to be discussed in the European Council Meeting to be held in December 2004, a few months after the announcement of the 2004 Regular Report on Turkeys Progress Towards Accession on 6 October 2004 ("Regular Report 2004").
Turkeys first official contact with the EU, then called the European Economic Community, was the execution of the partnership treaty, officially referred to as the Ankara Agreement in 1963. In 1987, Turkey made its first submission for membership, however a concrete response was not given. Then in 1996, Turkey once again declared its desire to become a part of the enlargement plan, however, this was rejected. Finally, in 1998, Turkey declared that its (final) goal was to become a member of the EU and hence submitted its strategy document to the EU. The candidacy was approved in 1999 emphasizing that Turkeys future membership is subject to the same terms and conditions required for all candidate countries.
The EU, in its Regular Report 2003, pointed out Turkeys deficiencies in certain areas, and stated that these deficiencies should be carefully evaluated with regards to the perfection of the Copenhagen Criteria. The Copenhagen Criteria are, inter alia; stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU, the ability to take on the obligations of the membership and the conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures.
Based on the foregoing, issues like the abolition of State Security Courts (Devlet Güvenlik Mahkemeleri), execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (the "ECHR"), closure of political parties, broadcasting and education in languages other than Turkish and the Cyprus matter were especially stressed in the Regular Report 2003. It is an undeniable fact that Turkey made great efforts to evaluate these issues. The State Security Courts were abolished, the ECHR decision regarding the Loizidou case was executed, broadcasting in minorities languages have begun and relations with the Greek government and the EU have been improved to solve the Cyprus matter. On the other hand, many legislative measures have been taken to improve freedom of thought and other fundamental human rights, and protection of minority rights. The EU, clearly appreciating these legislative reforms, set out its reservation that these legislative movements should be fully implemented into practice as well. Furthermore, it has been stated that, legislative action should be taken to improve the legislations on company law, competition law, the telecommunication sector, intellectual property, agriculture, transportation and taxation.
The EU, in its Regular Report 2004, which has been very recently publicized, once again expressed its appreciations for the reforms made on the foregoing matters. It was also stated that concrete steps were taken for the implementation of many legislation movements into practice. Important issues such as the abolition of death penalty, zero tolerance policy towards torture, enactment of the new Penal Code, protection of intellectual property, the principle of gender equality, protection of minorities and the exercise of cultural rights took place in the report as positive progresses achieved by Turkey.
Regarding the economic criteria, the Regular Report 2004 sets forth that the short term priorities have been partially met and that the legislative framework to facilitate foreign direct investment has been improved and the dialogue with the EU on macroeconomic issues is satisfactory. However, it was stated that the privatization efforts should continue.
Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, at his speech on 6 October 2004 where he briefed the European Public on Regular Report 2004, stated that the Commissions response as regards Turkeys compliance with the criteria is positive and that it recommends opening negotiations for Turkeys accession to the EU. However, this positive response is a "qualified yes" that is accompanied by a large number of recommendations on following up and monitoring the situation in Turkey.
Prodi also stated that the Commission has conducted an "impact study" on the effects of Turkeys membership to the EU. He said that Turkeys accession to the EU will make a positive contribution to the EU. However, he also stated that, Turkeys size, geographical position, defense capacity, population and demographic growth, current level of development, disparities between regions, infrastructure and the size of rural and farming population are critical issues necessitating to conduct accession negotiations so as to prevent Turkeys integration from weakening the structure they have been building for over fifty years.
As of today, discussions both in Turkey and in Europe whether Turkey shall become a member of the EU or not, continue at full speed. The Regular Report 2004 was overall positive, however, this would not be interpreted as the EU has opened its doors wide open, and the real challenge has just begun. The only and the best thing Turkey could do, as Günther Verheugen emphasized in his speech of 17 June 2004, is to maintain its steady determination to overcome hurdles and bureaucratic bottlenecks, and to establish a clear track record of progressive implementation of the reforms not for accession to the EU only, but for the sake of Turkeys future.
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