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EU Enlargement Chief Sees Turkey's 'Moment of Truth'

DW staff (nda)/AFP
September 6, 2004

As European Union leaders prepare to decide whether to open membership talks with Turkey, EU enlargement chief Günther Verheugen said Monday that Ankara was facing its moment of truth.

Günther Verheugen (right) and Abdullah Gul had plenty to discussImage: AP

Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999 and argues that it has fulfilled most of the political criteria needed to get the go-ahead in December to begin accession talks.

The EU decision will be based on a report due to be published by the European Commission in October, which will assess Turkey's progress towards meeting the Union's political norms and make a recommendation on whether to open membership negotiations.

As he began a five-day visit to the country, Verheugen promised Monday that the Commission would provide an objective analysis of Turkey's reform drive to haul itself up to European standards.

"I can promise you that (the report) will be fair and objective and honest and that it will take into account the impressive progress that was made in Turkey," Verheugen told reporters after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

"We agree that now the moment of truth is coming," he added. "I made it very clear: nothing can and must postpone the decision foreseen for December."

High stakes

The enlargement commissioner is no stranger to Turkey. Over the years he has regularly visited the country as part of the process of assessing its bid to join the European Union.

This time, the stakes could not be higher, and Verheugen has admitted the Commission is still divided over whether or not Turkey is ready.

The Turkish government has been quick to point out the sweeping reforms it has introduced to meet EU standards. But according to political commentator Mehmet Ali Birand, Ankara now feels that further progress is dependent on the EU giving a date for admission talks.

"If the European Union genuinely wishes to push Turkey for those reforms on human rights and democracy, they should give a hand and be a little bit more forthcoming, giving a date to start full membership negotiations," he said.

Implementation: still cause for concern

But the EU remains concerned that these reforms have yet to be effectively implemented.

Verheugen is therefore spending most of his trip travelling around the country meeting the Turkish people. His first destination is Diyarbakir, the provincial capital of the predominantly Kurdish south east of Turkey, where he will meet local leaders and non-governmental organizations, in particular human rights groups.

Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish population has been one of the main factors holding back its accession bid, while women's rights are another sticking point.

Amnesty International earlier this year published a damming report on the treatment of women, saying up to 50% suffer domestic violence. It also said that honor killings of women continue to occur. One of the authors of the report is Christine Curry.

"I am pleased to say pretty much all the reforms proposed by the women's groups and Amnesty have been accepted in the draft legislation, currently before parliament but I think a lot of work has to be done, it is very serous problem," she says. "Implementation remains a concern."

Gul insists that Turkey will continue to carry out its democratic reforms regardless of the EU decision.

"There is no question of us saying: 'We've reached our station, let's get out," he said at Monday's press conference.

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