Turkey must reform courts, warns Barroso

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The Independent Online

Pressure mounted on Turkey yesterday to push ahead with far-ranging legal reforms, as the incoming European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said that Ankara has not yet done enough to start talks on EU membership.

Pressure mounted on Turkey yesterday to push ahead with far-ranging legal reforms, as the incoming European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said that Ankara has not yet done enough to start talks on EU membership.

The blunt warning came after days of wrangling over a package of reforms in Turkey, and before a visit by the Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Brussels tomorrow.

In an interview in the French daily Le Monde, Mr Barroso was asked directly whether he believes Turkey has fulfilled the EU's criteria on human rights. "No, not yet," Mr Barroso said. "It has made big progress, we recognise that, but, as we speak, all the criteria have not been met." Mr Barroso said that he favours Turkish membership of the EU but on the condition that Ankara matches all the requirements. "The question on the table is the opening of [membership] negotiations. It is for Turkey to adapt to Europe's rules and not for Europe to adapt to those of Turkey."

His comments echo the position of the outgoing European Commissioner for enlargement, Günter Verheugen, who has said that negotiations with Ankara cannot start until a new penal code for Turkey is on the statute books.

EU leaders are due to decide in December whether to start negotiations on Turkish entry. Several countries have private reservations about Turkey's membership and would seize on any opportunity to delay talks.

The planned new penal code for Turkey, which would toughen penalties for torturers, rapists and those who commit "honour" crimes against women, has been shelved after a bitter internal rift. The reforms fell victim to an internal feud within Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) over government plans to make adultery punishable by up to two years in prison. When that idea provoked fierce opposition from the EU, Mr Erdogan agreed with the main opposition party to drop the measure. However hardliners in the ranks of his Islamic-rooted AKP party sought to get it on to the statute book through an amendment to the penal code. In the ensuing furore Mr Erdogan shelved the whole penal code.

Mr Erdogan, who will hold talks with Mr Verheugen on Thursday, is in a tight political corner. Under pressure from his rank and file, last week he told the EU to stop meddling in internal Turkish politics.

But last night there were signs that EU pressure may be paying off. Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, deputy head of the AKP, said that the Turkish parliament may reconvene to hold a special parliamentary session to reconsider the penal code. Mr Firat said: "Politics is a dynamic affair. Things can change in an hour." He added: "The AKP parliamentary group will take the necessary decision in the near future."

Ankara knows that there are deep reservations about its desire for accession to the EU in some quarters. Yesterday the German Christian Democrat MEP Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said Ankara "has not done its homework". He called for a verdict on the starting of negotiations to be delayed by two or three years.

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