The European Commission granted Turkey the much-coveted market economy status on Wednesday but warned the EU candidate to step up the pace of reform and do more to protect human rights.
Turkey takes a baby step forward, but there's still much work to do
Turkey's economy may have received good grades from the European Commission in its report on the status of membership talks, but other areas such as political reform and human rights issues were deemed unsatisfactory.
"Turkey has made fundamental progress in the economic field and can now be regarded as a functioning market economy, as long as it firmly maintains its recent stabilization and reform achievements," the report said.
While its value is mainly symbolic, such status is a prerequisite for joining the 25-member EU and would also boost confidence in the Turkish economy, bringing greater stability and a better climate for foreign investors.
It would also allow Ankara to begin harmonizing its laws in some of the 35 chapters of EU legislation it must integrate to join.
But the report, issued barely a month after Turkey started talks on joining the European Union, said the vast reform effort that Ankara had undertaken to begin membership talks had tapered off over the last year.
"Important legislative reforms have now entered into force and should lead to structural changes of the legal system, particularly in the judiciary," said the commission in a statement.
The commission also acknowledged that Turkey had a legal framework for fighting torture, "but such cases are still reported and more vigorous efforts are required to fight against impunity for those perpetrating such crimes."
In a series of reports released on the European Union's enlargement process, the EU's executive body also told Balkan EU candidate state Croatia that it must track down and arrest a fugitive general -- Ante Gotovina -- wanted for war crimes.
UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, with Croatia's Prime Minister Ivo Sanader
Zagreb's EU entry talks were delayed for seven months because it was not providing enough help to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in finding Gotovina, believed to be still at large in Croatia.
The negotiations were launched after chief UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte changed her assessment and said Croatia was providing "full cooperation."
Progress reports were also released on the EU's relations with four other western Balkans countries -- Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro -- and the Serbian province of Kosovo.
The commission recommended that EU member states accept Macedonia as a candidate to join the bloc, but gave no date for membership talks to begin.
Describing the ex-Yugoslav state as a European success story, EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn praised the government for turning Macedonia around in just a few years.
"Four years ago, in 2001, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was at the brink of a civil war, now today in 2005 it is seriously knocking on the EU's door," he said.