The president of the European Commission said on Thursday he came to Ankara to "encourage the Turkish government" and said two more policy chapters will be opened in the accession negotiations by July, while Turkish Prime Minister vowed to do more reforms in the EU negotiation process. The three-day visit of the top EU officials is expected to give a new impetus to the reform process, which has been stalled recently. The EU official, who slammed the move of prosecutors to close ruling AKP, they will not assume a position on headscarf and secularism. (UPDATED)
Jose-Manuel Barroso arrived in Turkey for a three-day official visit, his first as the president of the Commission. He is accompanied by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.
"I want to encourage the reform process in Turkey," Barroso said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. He urged Ankara to focus on improving freedom of speech, the rights of women, trade unions and religious and ethnic minorities.
Barroso said he was confident that two new policy areas would be opened for negotiations with Turkey by July, bringing the total to eight out of 35 chapters that candidates are required to complete. The EU suspended negotiations in eight policy chapters because of Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships.
Barroso addressed to the Turkish parliament after his meeting with Erdogan. Turkey’s integration into Europe would offer "a powerful alternative" to radical Islam throughout the world, he told the Turkish MPs.
But he refused to take side in the concerns of some parts of the Turkish nation about secularism, saying nobody should expect the EU to assume a position on headscarf issue as well as secularism.
Barroso said in his address to the parliament Turkey "demonstrates that a secular democratic republic, with a predominantly Muslim population, well integrated in Europe, offers a powerful alternative to fundamentalist temptations throughout the world."
In the press conference Erdogan retreated Turkey's goal is full membership to the EU and will not accept any other alternative. "We believe the European Commission will continue to support our country's membership bid, as it has done so far."
Erdogan said he discussed Turkey-EU relations and reform process with Barroso as well as problems faced in Turkey's EU accession process, and expressed Turkey's determination to maintain ongoing negotiations and meet opening criteria for new chapters.
THE CLOSURE CASE
The Turkish government again appears to be focusing on EU reforms, since the closure case was accepted by the Constitutional Court. The AKP is planning to implement a reform package to revive the stalled EU reforms. Brussels has been saying the reform process had slowed and has been calling on Ankara to speed up the reforms.
Erdogan didn't rule out to amend the Constitution to harden party closing conditions. "If it is necessary such a step will be taken but if it is not necessary the legal process will be followed just as it is," he added.
Barroso said the case "is not common, to say the least, in a normal, stable and democratic country," urging the verdict, expected to take up at least six months, should be compatible with European standards.
"What I can tell you is frankly that I hope the decision of the Constitutional Court will be a decision compatible with the rule of law, European standards, with jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights," he said.
Turkey's chief prosecutor filed a lawsuit against the ruling AKP, claiming the party became "the focal point of the anti-secular activities" and demanded 71 officials of the party, including Erdogan and Gul, to be banned from politics on March 14. The case raised the political tensions and prompted the EU to warn Turkey that the negotiations could be suspended.
THE ARTICLE 301
In a move to woo the EU Turkish government sent its long-awaited proposal to amend the controversial article of the Turkish Penal Code to the parliament, which is expected to approve it next week.
The proposal aims to soften Article 301 of the penal code, which calls for up to three years in jail for "insulting Turkishness." The president's approval will be required to open a case under the article.
Barroso welcomed the draft as "a step in the right direction." Barroso and Rehn will visit Istanbul on Friday.