Torture still an obstacle to Turkey's EU membership

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two reports on Turkey's application to join the European Union point to potential benefits from its membership, but highlight continuing human rights violations and Ankara's failure to prevent "numerous" cases of torture and ill treatment.

Two reports on Turkey's application to join the European Union point to potential benefits from its membership, but highlight continuing human rights violations and Ankara's failure to prevent "numerous" cases of torture and ill treatment.

The carefully balanced documents, to be released next week, pave the way for the European Commission to recommend the start of EU membership negotiations but with tougher conditions than for any other candidate country.

One strong possibility is that the European Commission, which must finalise its recommendation next Wednesday, will include a specific warning to Ankara that it will break off negotiations at any time if progress is not made on specific policy areas.

With its mainly Muslim population of 70 million and areas of acute poverty, Turkey's attempt to join the EU is highly controversial. Ankara needs to meet the so-called Copenhagen criteria on human rights in order to start talks on EU membership, which are expected to take up to 10 years to complete.

The documents the commission will release are an assessment of Turkey's progress and a separate impact study on the effects of its membership. These will be crucial in influencing EU heads of government who decide in December whether to start talks. Leaders of most of the big countries want to start negotiations, though public opinion is divided.

The impact study gives only vague figures, arguing that the timescale of the enlargement makes precision impossible. It puts the total cost of Turkish membership from 2025 between €16.5bn (£11.3bn) to €27.9bn (£19.2) in 2004 prices per year. That corresponds to between 0.1 and 0.17 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product at 2025 levels, although existing member states would still benefit slightly from the increased wealth generated.

But the annual progress report, covering human rights issues, is perhaps more sensitive. The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Günther Verheugen, has already hinted that Ankara has made sufficient progress to begin talks by saying that torture in Turkey is no longer "systematic".

However, the Commission's work underlines the need for thorough monitoring of Turkish detention centres to ensure that torture is eradicated. The document says that, between January and June this year, 388 human rights violations were filed, including complaints of torture and ill-treatment.

It argues: "The government is seriously pursuing its policy of zero tolerance in its fight against torture. However, numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment continue to occur and further efforts will be required to eradicate such practices."

In a separate reference it adds that "government policy of zero tolerance and serious efforts to implement reform have led to a decline in the practice of torture".

It says that progress on combating inequality since 1999 has been limited, freedom of expression is improved but difficulties remain, and that "corruption remains a very serious problem in Turkey".

Comments