PACE president voices support for Turkey’s EU bid

photo23.jpgVoicing support for Turkey’s EU bid, the president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) urged the country’s authorities on Thursday (October 26th) to step up their reform efforts.

“Try to amaze your negotiation partners,” Rene Van der Linden said, referring to Turkey’s EU accession talks with Brussels.

A year after the official launch of negotiations, which are expected to last at least a decade, senior EU officials have been criticising Ankara in recent weeks over a slowdown in the reform process, warning this could lead to a breakdown in talks. Even if at a slower pace than expected, Turkey is moving in the right direction, Van der Linden said.

“There should be a balanced approach,” he told NTV television Thursday following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. “The EU should encourage Turkey’s reforms so that Turkey can have confidence in this process. A disruption will be in no one’s interest — neither in the EU nor Turkey.”

In talks with Gul, however, the Dutch politician reportedly has urged Ankara to improve freedom of expression. In particular, he said, the country should modify Article 301 of its penal code, under which scores of Turkish intellectuals have faced trial on charges of “insulting Turkishness”.

One of them was Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, who narrowly escaped prosecution earlier this year.

Van der Linden, who arrived on five-day visit to Turkey late Wednesday, also criticised a bill passed by the French lower chamber of parliament. Under that legislation, anyone denying that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians during World War I could face a one-year prison sentence.

While the 46-nation Council of Europe is not an EU institution, it is one of the key human rights watchdogs.

The PACE president, whose visit comes less than two weeks before the European Commission is due to issue a crunch report on Turkey’s accession progress, also voiced hope that a row over Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus would be resolved

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