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The EU has welcomed a reform action plan unveiled by Turkey aimed at bringing the country into line with norms needed to join the bloc and smoothing its turbulent accession process.
Turkey hopes to give its EU bid a much-needed boost with its latest reforms
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Tuesday Ankara was determined to advance reforms, including in the eight policy areas where negotiations were frozen in December because of Turkey's refusal to grant trade privileges to Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognize.
"The problematic issues are mostly political. We cannot cling to them and remain at a standstill," Gul told a press conference. "When the political problems are one day resolved, we will meet with the EU and it will take us half an hour to open and close those chapters."
Candidates for membership are required to adopt EU norms in 35 policy areas. Turkey cannot officially close talks in any of the chapters until the Cyprus dispute is resolved.
EU welcomes Turkish course
Erdogan met with Merkel at the Hanover trade fair this week
"This is, of course, very much welcomed by the European Commission ... and this is what is actually expected from any candidate country," an EU spokeswoman on enlargement issues told reporters Tuesday.
She said, however, that it was too early for the EU's executive body to comment on the content of the plan -- essentially a program of technical reforms and a timetable for Turkey to achieve them by 2013.
The spokeswoman also noted that the speed at which Turkey undertakes reform would dictate how soon it joins Europe's rich club.
Turkey's EU membership talks, which began in October 2005 and have been plagued with difficulties, are expected to last at least a decade, and Ankara has been given no guarantee that it will even be allowed in at the end.
Many member nations are wary of inviting in a huge, relatively poor and mainly-Muslim state which would, under EU rules, receive voting rights similar to major powers like Britain or Italy.
Aligning with EU standards
Gul, left, outlined his plan for Turkey's membership talks
Ending a long hiatus in the talks, the EU last month began negotiations with Turkey on "enterprise and industry policy," only the second chapter Ankara has managed to open since "science and research" in June 2006.
"We maintain our goal of EU membership with determination," Gul said. "The reforms will facilitate our negotiating process on the one hand and, on the other, raise standards in many aspects of our daily lives."
The program outlines a timetable for completing legislative amendments and other legal regulations by 2013 to align with EU standards in areas ranging from transport and food safety to customs, competition policies and the environment.
Turkey's chief negotiator in the accession talks, Economy Minister Ali Babacan, said the timetable concerned only the completion of legislative work and did not include target dates for their implementation, which would be decided later on a case-by-case basis.
The program will require parliament to enact about 200 pieces of legislation plus some 400 other regulations to be issued by the government, he said.
Turkey committed to continuing political reforms
Article 301 has resulted in the prosecution of intellectuals
"Political reforms will also continue," Babacan added. "We will focus particularly on resolving problems that emerge on the ground in the implementation of the reforms."
Gul said Ankara is committed to amending Article 301 of the penal code, which has resulted in the prosecution of dozens of intellectuals for "insulting Turkishness" and triggered harsh EU criticism, but did not say when.
Turkey's EU membership talks, which got off to a turbulent start in October 2005, have been overshadowed by presidential elections in May and general elections scheduled for November.