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Opinion: Turkey Takes Another Stride Towards the EU

The Council of Europe has given Turkey a positive report card regarding its democratic reforms. But Ankara can't afford to rest on its laurels.


Still a ways to go, though

The positive report about democracy and law in Turkey will end the political monitoring program carried out by the Council of Europe which began in 1996 as a result of escalating tensions following the military coup in Turkey in 1990.

The assessment will normalize strained relations between the Strasbourg institution and Turkey as well as help Turkey take an important step further on the long road to the EU. But, as Deutsche Welle's Baha Güngör says, Ankara still has much work to do.

Seen through Turkish eyes, the vote in the EU parliamentary assembly is a positive result. But it shouldn't be seen as a final entry ticket to the EU club. There's still much disorder in the Turkish state even though the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter.

Kurdische Politiker aus Gefängnis in Ankara entlassen

Leyla Zana, center right, and Selim Sadak, left, are greeted by supporters after they were freed from a prison in Ankara on June 9, 2004.

The Belgiun and Luxembourgian members of the Council of Europe who reported on Turkey's progress were impressed by concrete measures Turkey has taken: the Kurdish human rights activist and former parliamentarian Leyla Zana (photo) was recently released from prison after ten-years together with three other former members of parliament of Kurdish-origin.

Zana, who was awarded the European Parliament's Human Rights Prize, is now openly demanding peace, a renunciation of violence and stability in Turkey as well as an end to the struggle between militant Kurds and the Turkish State.

Torture still in place

These positive developments shouldn't be allowed to mask the fact that it took a long time and much patience before the situation in Turkey had "normalized."

In September last year, experts of the Council of Europe discovered during a visit to Turkish prisons that although it wasn't as frequent as earlier, torture methods were still being used against inmates, particularly in Kurdish-dominated regions. Mistreatment, such as beatings, forced sleep deprivation or being made to stand for hours as well as limiting access to a lawyer, were still frequently practiced.

With the end of direct monitoring, Turkey now joins the group of nations that fall in the "post-monitoring" stage. Here Turkey finds itself in much better company: EU countries such as the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovakia all belong to the group as well as EU aspirants Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.

More reforms needed

Turkey is well on its way to fulfilling the membership criteria of the EU in the areas of democracy, the rule of law, protection of minorities, and individual and institutional freedom. It is also meeting EU economic criteria. But the country still has to clear a number of hurdles before taking its place in the European Union family.

That includes, for instance, the lowering of the ten-percent hurdle in parliamentary elections -- which above all prevents a representation of the Kurds in parliament -- the possibility of refusing service in the army, an amendment of penal law and a review of laws stemming from the country's long-running "state of emergency."

Martial law was imposed over the entire country in 1978 and was later upheld as a state of emergency, a notch below the level of martial law, in parts of the country until two years ago.

New challenges to Europe

Deutsche und türkische Flagge mit Minarett p178

The minaret of a local mosque in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, is flanked by a German, left, and Turkish flag.

There's no doubt that Turkey's entry will pose completely new political challenges to the EU. After all Turkey's 70 million citizens are almost exclusively Muslims and thus members of a different religious community than the largely Christian Europe.

But it's exactly this difference in religion that gives Europe the chance to prove that it's capable and prepared for dialogue and peace with other cultures and faiths. Those who want a stable peace in Europe need Turkey as a bridge of trust between the Orient and the Occident, between East and West. Dealing with Islamic fundamentalism and blasphemous terrorism demands courage. Courage to look beyond one's own Christian existence and along with it to accept Turkey as a country that wants to carry Europe's political values beyond its geographical borders.

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