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EU Officials Visit Turkey to Discuss Political Reforms

  • Dorian Jones

Two top European Union officials are visiting Ankara to discuss Turkey's failure to introduce reforms required for EU membership. Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Oli Rehn want Turkey to re-embrace its commitment to EU reforms.

The EU officials expected to have a long list of demands. Brussels has become increasingly irritated over the failure of Ankara to introduce EU reforms, as part of Turkey's membership bid. Political columnist Murat Yetkin says the concern is justified.

"In political terms, it is not going anywhere," said Yetkin. "The reason why it is not going anywhere is primarily because of the divide in Europe. You have a French president and his German supporter saying, whatever Turkey does, it has no place here."

In the past few weeks, Turkish politics has been turned upside down.

The deputy head of Turkey's constitutional court Osman Paksut announced the court has agreed to hear the case to close the governing Justice and Development Party on the charge of undermining the secular state. Many analysts warn the party, known as the AKP, faces the real threat of being closed down and its leadership expelled from parliament.

Sabiha Senyucel, of the Turkish political think-tank Tesev, says the case has resulted in a dramatic change in government policy towards the EU membership process.

"If you want to save yourself in the country, then the EU is your only guarantee," said Senyucel. "The AKP knows very well that if they do not get back on track with the EU process, if they do not continue their commitment with the EU process, they are going to lose their support from the intellectuals circles from the business circles."

This week, the government announced plans for a democratization package, which includes many EU-demanded reforms. Among them is reform of the controversial Article 301 of Turkey's penal code, which criminalizes speeches and writings that are deemed to insult Turkish culture.

The law is a key point of tension between Ankara and Brussels. It is responsible for hundreds of cases against writers and journalists - most notably Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk.

According to analysts, the government's renewed commitment to EU membership reforms, has been inspired by Brussels' condemnation of the closure case against it. Both Rehn and Barraso have strongly criticized the case.

But analyst Senyucel warns such statements might backfire.

"It might have a negative effect on the constitutional court that, because they will take a more tough position saying that this is our domestic issue and we will going to decide on that," he said.

The visit of Barraso and Rehn was planned more than six months ago, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul are anxious to re-state their pro-EU credentials, at this critical time.

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