Leading article: A patronising and mistimed report


The timing of the European Union's latest assessment of Turkey's application to join the EU could not have come at a worse time, just as Turkey is on the brink of war in Iraqi Kurdistan. But then the tone of the EU report could not have been more inappropriate either.

Much of what the officials of the Commission say in their annual review is reasonable enough. In the past two years, the Turkish government's progress on such issues as freedom of expression and minority rights has slowed. The notorious Article 301 of the Turkish penal code remains on the statute book and has been used persistently to silence critics of the army or those who would raise the thorny question of the massacre of the Armenians during the First World War. Turkey's refusal to normalise its relations with Cyprus also continues to be a major blocking stone.

Despite the re-election, by a substantial vote, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, and the accession of a new president, both dedicated to domestic reform and membership of the European Union, the country remains haunted by the glowering presence of the army in the background and the resurgence of Kurdish terrorism in the foreground.

But it is precisely for those reasons that the EU's patronising schoolmaster's report is so misplaced. By any standards, Turkey's progress in reforming its economy, liberalising its laws, and beginning to move towards a better accommodation with its Kurdish minority has been truly remarkable, particularly since Mr Erdogan's election. The problem has been not so much with Turkish backsliding on reform. If there has been any of that, it is because of tensions between the government and the army and judiciary before Mr Erdogan's re-election earlier this year.

The Turkish Prime Minister needs our support at this difficult moment. The real problem has been that the EU itself has been backsliding in its enthusiasm for Turkish entry. Although it is formally still committed to the task, there has been increasing resistance from some members, notably France and Austria. Upbraiding Turkey for its pace of reform and its reluctance to abandon Northern Cyprus without a deal has become a means of kicking the whole question into the long grass.

That would be entirely wrong. Turkish entry to the EU is a development that could revolutionise Europe's relations with the Islamic world. It also provides a very real carrot with which to draw a democratic country such as Turkey along a course of increased liberalism. We should be using annual reports such as that published in Brussels yesterday to show our concerns for Turkey as a friend, not as a search for reasons to call off the marriage.

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