A recent European Commission report says limits on free speech are undermining Turkey's chances of becoming a full member of the European Union. The report says that Turkey also needs to reform its judiciary, fight corruption and strip the military of its political powers. EU officials say that if Turkey does more to meet Europe's standards then it can expect to gain full membership, despite some European leaders who favor more limited ties for Turkey. Nina-Maria Potts has more for VOA.
Turkey – a predominately Muslim nation bridging East and West – is an aspiring member of the European Union for decades.
Two years into entry negotiations, and now Turkey's EU membership bid lies at the core of a bitter controversy over how much farther to expand Europe's borders. The European Commission says to become an EU member Turkey needs to deepen reforms, and reform faster.
The EU's enlargement chief, Olli Rehn, singled out Turkey's law on insulting "Turkishness," that has been used to prosecute several writers. "It is simply not acceptable in a European democracy that writers, journalists, academics and other intellectuals, or any citizen for that matter, are prosecuted for simply expressing a critical but completely non-violent opinion," he said.
Rehn says the EU accepts that a string of political crises in Turkey this year help explain a slowdown in reforms.
Some analysts fear that souring public opinion and the arrival of EU leaders opposed to Turkish membership may undermine Europe's end of the bargain, that membership does await if Turkey reforms.
Michael Emerson is with the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. He says, "There is this blocking position of several member states, which renders the whole exercise highly ambiguous, and basically inconsistent. That means trouble, that means unsustainability in due course."
European Union officials say it is time to press on with accession talks. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants talks put on hold, until European leaders agree to his plan for a group of so-called "wisemen" to examine Europe's future. France has been warned that such a group cannot be a ploy for shutting down further enlargement.
Andrew Duff is a Member of the European Parliament, and a prominent supporter of Turkish membership. He has concerns about Mr. Sarkozy's proposal. "I think that his contention that we need now to consider the future of Europe is rather absurd, when we have been considering it profoundly and intensively for several years now."
If EU politicians are divided over Turkish membership, they agree on Turkey's strategic importance. EU officials worry that too much of Europe's energy comes from Russia. Pipelines through Turkey could carry gas from Central Asia and Iran, bypassing Russia.
For the moment, the EU is officially committed to eventual Turkish membership. Supporters of Turkey say if they push too fast, they risk losing public opinion. But at the same time, they say, if talks drag on forever, Turkey may walk away.