The European Commission has warned Turkey that it will not start talks on Ankara's bid to join the EU until it overhauls its penal code. But Turkey has yet to abandon controversial plans to criminalize adultery.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will meet EU officials this week
The penal code reform has ground to a halt in Turkey's parliament at a particularly sensitive time -- the EU executive is due to issue a crucial appraisal of the country's progress towards EU standards on Oct. 6.
"The (European) Commission will make clear that, as long as such a central element as the reform of the penal code is not adopted, accession negotiations cannot start," Jean-Christophe Filori, the spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen, said on Monday.
The commission's report will serve as a basis for a Dec. 17 decision by EU leaders on whether or not to give Turkey, an official EU candidate since 1999, a starting date for accession talks. The Turkish government's withdrawal last week of the penal code bill, part of a raft of reforms designed to get the country in shape for the EU, has thrown new doubt on the commission's verdict.
Verheugen, in interviews with several German newspapers on Sunday, warned that implementation of the reforms to Turkey's criminal law were central to Brussels giving a positive appraisal. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party unexpectedly pulled the bill off the parliament floor last Thursday -- apparently to reintroduce a highly controversial clause that would restore adultery as a criminal offence.
Justice and Development Party supporters.
The reintroduction of the adultery clause, which the party had previously dropped amid heavy pressure from the EU, was reportedly at the prompting of the powerful religious groups that form part of government's hard line Muslim support.
Turkish dailies said Erdogan would tell Verheugen at a meeting on Thursday that the clause would have a narrow field of application and neither meddle with "civilized relationships between adults" nor curb individual freedoms. But Turkey's many critics in the EU who are opposed to it ever joining the bloc point to the clause as evidence that the Muslim-majority country is not "European" enough.
A Turkish government spokesman on Monday said Ankara would continue to improve its democracy and human rights record regardless of its future relationship with the EU.
"Let's say they did not give us a date (for accession talks) in December," Cemil Cicek said, according to the Associated Press. "We are not going to beat our knees and weep. Turkey will continue on its road and it should."
When asked if the plan to criminalize adultery was still being considered, Cicek was non-committal, reiterating the government's line that Turkey had other options to pursue if the country was snubbed by the EU.
Verheugen has warned the fate of the new penal code would determine "whether Turkey was sufficiently on the road to a state of law and in line with European standards ... on respect for freedoms and fundamental rights." He has reportedly warned the Turkish envoy that failure to pass the reform bill would make it "more difficult" to overcome the widespread opposition inside Europe to Turkish membership of the EU.
Before the controversy surrounding the adultery clause, Verheugen had been widely expected to recommend the EU should open talks on Turkey's membership bid.