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Commission recommends Turkey EU negotiations amid continuing reform

7 October 2004

The European Commission has recommended that Turkey is ready for European Union membership negotiations despite the need for significant further progress in the fields of human and minority rights. The Commission congratulated far reaching constitutional and legislative changes, however it also highlighted the need for implementation measures to be ‘consolidated and broadened’ to ensure the effectiveness of such measures. The Brussels decision includes the possibility to suspend negotiations with Turkey should it be found to have committed ‘serious and persistent breach’ of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, a ‘braking-clause’ welcomed as a means to sustain pressure towards irreversible reform.

The Commission stated in regard to human rights that Turkey ‘has aligned itself to a large extent with international conventions and rulings’. However, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) points out that Turkey is one of only three members of the Council of Europe not to have signed the Framework Convention on National Minorities (FCNM), the major European legal standard on the rights of minorities. MRG has called on Turkey to sign the FCNM as a demonstration of its continuing commitment to minority rights. EU member states will consider the recommendations of the Commission when they meet in December but it is considered unlikely that they will contradict the opinion of the Commission.

Turkey’s treatment of minorities must be a key consideration if it is to progress towards becoming an EU member state, suggests MRG. The rights group is calling for far reaching change by Turkey on issues including recognition, language rights, and the right of return of thousands of internally displaced people to their villages, and has welcomed language which aligns the progress of negotiations with the pace of reforms.

‘The European Commission has made a strong statement that, while much progress has been achieved, much remains to be done’ stated MRG spokesperson, Graham Fox. ‘Turkey’s great challenge now is to push through reforms once and for all and make them an everyday reality. Such root and branch change requires time and commitment, and the Commission’s recommendations seem to have recognized the need for both’.

Amongst numerous issues of concern, MRG highlights the issue of the right of return of thousands of Kurdish, Syriac, Alevi and Yezidi residents to their villages in south-eastern and east Turkey following evacuation or destruction of villages, as one of the most urgent minority rights issues. Additionally, Kurds, Laz and Circassions have long requested and repeatedly been denied either schools teaching in their language or their language being an optional subject, even in regions where they are a majority. Political participation is severely restricted by both unreasonably high voting thresholds which restrict the possibility of minority representation, and by prohibition of using minority languages in political activities under the Political Parties Law.

Notes for editors

Download ‘Minorities in Turkey: Submission to the European Union and the Government of Turkey‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].