05 October, 2006
Minority issues - such as laws governing religious properties of non-Moslem minorities, the rights of these minorities and those of Alevites - were very important for Turkey's European progress, European Commissioner for enlargement Olli Rehn stressed on Wednesday, during an interview with the Turkish TV channel NTV.
The Commissioner also noted delays in reforms required by the EU, as well as problems with the implementation of the reforms already carried out, and referred once more to Turkey's obligation to open its ports and airports to Cyprus-flagged ships and airplanes under the Ankara Protocol.
"Turkey has carried out bold reforms but problems are being observed in certain areas of their implementation. In the last year, the process has delayed," Rehn said, emphasizing particularly the "very negative developments in the area of freedom of expression".
The Commissioner highlighted EU concerns over article 301 in the Turkish penal code which refers to 'insulting Turkishness', pointing out that there had been 69 court cases based on this article in the past year and that this restricted freedom of expression.
Unless progress on this was made, this would have a negative impact on the EU progress report for Turkey, he stressed.
Asked what would happen if Turkey refused to do open its ports and airports to Cyprus traffic before the end of the year, given that the Turkish government has refused to back down unless the isolation of Turkish-Cypriots is first lifted, Rehn urged reporters "not to dwell on the worst outcomes" and pointed to current efforts by the Finnish presidency of the EU to overcome the impasse.
"We are making efforts around the issue of direct trade, as well as on creating the right conditions for talks [on the Cyprus issue] to be resumed," he added.
Regarding the Finnish presidency's initiative for the Ankara Protocol, Rehn repeated that neither side has so far rejected the plan outright or leaked it to the press.
Source: Athens News Agency