09 November, 2006
Athens on Wednesday appeared satisfied with a same-day decision by the European Commission giving candidate-state Turkey a mid-December deadline to, among others, open its ports and airports to Cypriot carriers by extending the Ankara protocol -- part of the country's standing commitments to the Union.
"Europe needs a stable, democratic and increasingly prosperous Turkey, in peace with its neighbors, firmly on track towards modernization and the adoption of European values. This is why we started accession negotiations with Turkey," Commission President José Manuel Barroso said after the EU executive's meeting.
"However, the key to the success of this process is for Turkey to continue the reforms with full determination and to fulfill its obligations. Today we decided to give a chance for the diplomatic efforts to find a solution. Turkey needs to meet its obligations related to the implementation of the Ankara Protocol. Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations.
The Commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the December European Council if Turkey has not fulfilled its commitments," he added.
In a brief comment to a press question in Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said the "report contains all the elements necessary to judge Turkey's course towards the European Union ... I believe that it is a report that refers to specific developments; a report that will serve as the basis for upcoming decisions by the Union."
Deputy FM Yiannis Valinakis echoed Bakoyannis' statement, calling the report "positive" for issues of particular Greek interest.
"The Commission stresses a lack of substantive progress on the part of Turkey, whose response towards its European commitments has been feeble. We are not happy about this, quite the opposite, it concerns us. We want to see a truly European Turkey being included in the EU at the conclusion of a successful adaptation with the European acquis," Valinakis said, adding:
"We must not take away, however, the neighboring country's incentive and vision for full membership."
According to reports from the Belgian capital, Greek diplomacy was pleased with the fact that the EU executive's report directly referred to a threat of war (casus belli) issued in 1995 by Turkish lawmakers and still kept alive by Ankara in case EU member-state Greece exercises its right to extend territorial waters.
The peculiar threat -- a remaining thorn in the course of normalizing otherwise improved Greek-Turkish relations -- is for the first time linked with Ankara's stated obligations regarding good-neighborly relations and solving disputes with peaceful means. "...As regards Greece, relations have continued to develop positively. Turkey should however address any sources of friction with its neighbours and refrain from any action which could negatively affect the peaceful settlement of border disputes. Turkey should be unequivocally committed to good neighborly relations and to the other requirements against which progress will be measured..." the report states.
Additionally, the report on Turkey's accession progress cites a handful of problems also of particularly interest to Athens, including the reopening of the Halki School of Theology, the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, ethnic Greeks' property rights in Turkey as well as provisions governing charitable foundations and schools belonging to the minority.
"Furthermore, restrictions on the training of clergy and on foreign clergy to work in Turkey remain. Turkish legislation does not provide for private higher religious education for these communities. The Greek Orthodox Halki (Heybeliada) seminary remains closed. The public use of the ecclesiastical title of Ecumenical Patriarch is still banned," the report read.
Cypriot reaction: Cyprus' foreign minister, George Lillikas, also expressed Nicosia's satisfaction with the content of the report, calling it "objective".
More importantly, the Cypriot FM said the report clearly records Turkey's refusal to meet its obligations vis-à-vis the 25-nation bloc.
"Cyprus will not compromise with a simple caressing of Turkey's ears on the issue of sanctions that must be imposed for its refusal to implement its obligations to the European Union and Cyprus," Lillikas told the state-run broadcaster on the island republic.
Commission statement: Immediately after the meeting, the Commission issued a statement stating:
"As regards Turkey's obligation to fully implement the Ankara Protocol, the Commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the European Council in December, if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations ... Significant efforts on the part of Turkey are needed in particular on freedom of expression. Further improvements are also needed on the rights of non-Muslim religious communities, women's rights, trade union rights and on civilian control of the military."
On his part, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said "enlargement is the essence of the EU's soft power to gradually extend peace, democracy and prosperity in Europe. This project needs broad support by the peoples of Europe. This is why we need to build a renewed consensus on enlargement, which recognizes the strategic value of enlargement while ensuring the Union's capacity to function."
The entire report can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2006/Nov/tr_sec_1390_en.pdf
Source: Athens News Agency