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Prodi Visits Turkey to Encourage Reform

EU Commission President Romano Prodi will visit Turkey on Thursday with an agenda that is dominated by the country's EU membership prospects and the divided island of Cyprus.

During his two-day visit in Ankara and Istanbul, Prodi – the first EU Commission president to visit Turkey in four decades – is expected to praise Turkey for the progress made in meeting the EU accession criteria. But he will also call for the continuation and implementation of these reforms. Turkey is hoping to get a date at the end of this year to start accession negotiations with the EU. But it still needs to do more to implement its human rights reforms as well as laws guaranteeing freedom of expression, religious liberty and the independence of the judiciary. Its reform process in the next months will be crucial. In October, the Commission will issue a report reviewing Turkey's membership performance. Based on this, EU leaders will decide in December whether to start membership negotiations with Ankara. A decision on that issue will at that point have to be taken with 25 member states - Cyprus being among them. The divided Mediterranean island poses a huge problem to Turkey's EU membership prospects. Although the Commission publicly insists that having a reunited island is not a prerequisite for Turkish EU membership, it would nevertheless be extremely difficult, politically, to have a militarily occupied territory within the European Union. However, the Turkish Daily News reports Prodi as saying the chances were not strong for a settlement to be reached before the island joins the EU in May. (EUObserver.com)

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