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 giugno 2020 


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Euro-MPs risked leaving the EU-Turkey customs union in procedural limbo as they delayed a vote to approve the extension of the so-called Ankara Agreement to the most recent EU entrants amid a fractious debate at the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg. The move, led by the EP's largest political force, the centre-right EPP-ED, ostensibly arose from concerns about Ankara's continuing non-recognition of (Greek) Cyprus and its block on Cypriot ships and aircraft. But the step drew criticism from other EP political groups and the European Commission, which branded it an "own goal". The Commission nonetheless confirmed that the postponement would have no impact on the planned start of accession negotiations with Turkey on October 3. Protocol put off. The European Parliament was supposed to vote on September 28 on an additional protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement, designed to formally expand the accord to include the ten new member states, including Cyprus, that joined the EU last year. The said protocol can only come into force if Parliament gives its assent, by a simple majority. Ankara had earlier signed up to the protocol as one of the conditions for the start of accession talks. But as it did so, it issued a declaration pointing out that the signature did not amount to recognition of Cyprus. That led to the EP delaying its vote on the protocol in early September as EU member states set about drafting their own 'counter-declaration' to respond to Ankara's text. With that 'counter-declaration' agreed, it looked like the way was clear for MEPs to hold their vote at the latest Strasbourg session. Indeed, the German MEP Elmar Brok (EPP-ED), who was responsible for coming up with the draft report, was recommending that the EP approve the extension of the customs union agreement. But there was a late twist as both Mr Brok and EPP-ED group leader Hans-Gert Poettering made clear in their comments in the EP's debate that they wanted clarification from Ankara as to whether Turkey's unilateral declaration on Cyprus would be part of the process of Turkish ratification of the additional protocol. The apparent fear was that the declaration might take on legal force if forming a part of this process. Mr Poettering pointed out that Turkey had accepted the additional protocol but did not recognise Cyprus and was not letting Cypriot ships and planes into its territory. He argued that agreeing to the customs protocol would mean having no leverage over the Turkish government. Just ahead of the planned vote, Mr Poettering duly called for an adjournment on behalf of his group, the largest in the European Parliament. This was backed by 311 MEPs in favour, with 285 against and 63 abstentions, forcing a postponement. Criticism. The leader of the EP's second largest group, German Socialist MEP Martin Schulz (PES), made clear that he did not agree with Mr Poettering. He talked of "respecting our side of the bargain", so as to be on firmer ground if the other side failed to produce the goods. Turkey's membership negotiations, he suggested, could always be suspended or stopped in the event of Turkey not fully implementing its obligations. There were also recriminations from within the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) group. Italy's Emma Bonino said that the aim should be to encourage the process of reform in Turkey, not hinder it. The UK's Andrew Duff said that putting off the vote was "short-sighted and mean-spirited" and had serious political ramifications. "It weakens the negotiating position of the Commission and Council and will harden the position of the Turkish government. It sows distrust between the two sides, and delays the possibility of relaxing the financial and trade embargo against Turkish North Cyprus", Mr Duff said. "Those who advocate a 'privileged partnership' with Turkey rather than full membership will ultimately have to agree to the extension of the customs union since without trade there will be no partnership of any sort at all", he continued. The EP's Greens described the delaying tactics as irresponsible. Dutch Green MEP Joost Lagendijk, who chairs the EP's delegation for relations with Turkey, said that: "Though it doesn't impede the opening of accession talks with Turkey on Monday, it sends a very bad signal. The move is merely one of the EPP's political games, but it damages both Europe's credibility and further reforms in Turkey". EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn had tried to reassure MEPs in the debate that he was ready to ask about the details of the Turkish ratification process, recalling that the Turkish declaration was only unilateral, had no legal effect, and could not call into question the need for full and non-discriminatory implementation of the protocol - including the removal of obstacles to the free movement of goods and transport restrictions. The Commissioner, in a last-ditch appeal to MEPs to head off any delay, pointed to the inconsistency of declining to conclude an internal procedure on the EU side on a matter that had been demanded of Turkey. As is now familiar, Mr Rehn used a football reference to explain the point: "After your team has worked hard for 89 minutes, you have your striker going into the box, he passes the goalkeeper and is about to put the ball into an empty goal when the coach shouts 'stop, bring the ball back'. It doesn't make sense to me". The Commissioner continued by saying he found it difficult to understand why the Parliament would want to have the customs union applying to Germany but not Poland, or to Greece but not Cyprus. In contrast to Mr Poettering, the Commissioner suggested that postponing the assent would weaken Europe's hand in seeking ratification of the customs union extension by the Turkish parliament and its implementation. Double standards? Aside from the protocol, MEPs' debate touched on Turkey's accession prospects in more general terms, at times in heated fashion. Mr Poettering made clear that the Turkish negotiation process had to be open-ended. "If at the end Turkey does not become a member we will nonetheless want to encourage a close alternative partnership", he explained. He also pointed out that the Treaty of Nice would not be an acceptable basis for Turkish accession, and the EU had to make sure that countries were able to accede. "If not, it would be irresponsible to keep enlarging the EU and end up with something that was no longer a European Union", he said. But Mr Schulz swiftly went onto the attack, accusing Mr Poettering of "skirting the real message" which was that he did not want Turkey as a full EU member. Mr Schulz called for "more honesty" in the debate: "The EPP does not want Turkey. We want to give Turkey a chance. But we don't know whether or not there will be accession at the end of the day because there are conditions to be met on both sides". Mr Schulz even went on to charge that: "You don't want to have Turkey because it is Islamic and far away. Croatia is closer and is Catholic. That is the truth of your message. Let us not beat about the bush. We must apply the same standards to all countries". At the same stage, the Socialist MEP was firm in calling for Turkish recognition of Cyprus during the accession negotiations, adding: "That cannot be at the end of the negotiations. It must take place immediately, within the first one or two years. If there is no recognition of Cyprus, the accession negotiations must be broken off". The exchange between Messrs Poettering and Schulz led Mr Duff to draw a parallel with the domestic situation in Germany after the country's inconclusive elections - joking that he was sorry to see that the talks between the CDU and SPD on a Grand Coalition were not proceeding so smoothly in the European Parliament. The German co-President of the Greens/EFA, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, also injected some spice into the debate by observing that some opponents of Turkey's accession were "surfing on a wave of cultural and racist prejudices". This, he said, was "a dangerous game, and the people using such arguments should ask themselves about the consequences of their words". Roger Knapman (Independence/Democracy Group, UK) said that he opposed political union with Turkey as much as he opposed it with France, Germany or Italy. "But what of the euro-fanatics whose ardour suddenly cools when they reach the Bosporus? Some this morning will detect the whiff of hypocrisy, but it is actually the smell of fear, fear that public support for the whole EU project will collapse if Turkish membership were seriously pursued." For this reason, he said, he was happy to see the EU plough ahead with negotiations, destroying itself in the process. EP resolution. Even though they postponed their vote on the Ankara protocol, MEPs nonetheless managed to vote on a motion for a more general joint resolution on Turkey that was a political statement without procedural implications. The text was approved by 356 MEPs in favour, with 181 against and 125 abstentions. It said that the negotiations would be open-ended and not automatically lead to Turkish EU membership, and that Turkey should be kept under permanent scrutiny and pressure to ensure that it maintains "the pace of the necessary reforms". Parliament among other things also said that it considered Turkish recognition of "the Armenian genocide ... to be a prerequisite for accession". Rehn on reforms. The Parliament's debate indeed gave Mr Rehn the chance to provide an update on the progress being made by Turkey on reforms. He said that the process was "ongoing". Important legislative reforms adopted earlier had now entered into force, leading to structural changes in the judiciary. And the human rights situation had improved, but significant further efforts were required. The Commissioner said that there had been some encouraging signals recently. He described as a "landmark" the acknowledgment by Prime Minister Erdogan of the existence of a "Kurdish issue". Mr Rehn also welcomed the fact that an academic conference on the question of the so-called "Armenian genocide" had finally been able to take place in Istanbul. The Commission had previously condemned a court order to stop the gathering (see Europe Information 2991). Mr Rehn made clear that, in order to be fully credible, Turkey's commitment to further political reforms had to be translated into more concrete achievements for the benefit of all Turkish citizens. Implementation on the ground was still uneven, he reported. "On the one hand, there are signs that the judiciary is enforcing the reforms. Several positive court judgements have been made in relation to cases on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the fight against torture and ill-treatment. On the other hand, there have been contradictory decisions, particularly in the area of freedom of expression where, for example, journalists continue to be prosecuted and, on occasion, convicted, for expressing certain non-violent opinions". The Enlargement Commissioner said that case of the author Orhan Pamuk was "emblematic of the difficulties the Turkish authorities face to ensure effective and uniform implementation of the reforms and of the struggle between the reformers and the conservatives in Turkey". He explained that the prosecution of Mr Pamuk raised serious concerns about the implementation of "doubtful provisions related to freedom of expression" under Turkey's new penal code. "If this is indeed the direction taken by the judiciary in Turkey, then the Turkish penal code will have to be amended in such a way that freedom of expression is not subject to the very particular beliefs of some district judge anymore, but simply follows European standards as we all know them". The Finn added that "fundamental problems" were still encountered by non-Muslim religious minorities in Turkey. "There is an urgent need to address these in a comprehensive manner via the adoption of legislation in line with the relevant European standards. A draft Law on Foundations is currently pending in Parliament but we have made it clear to the Turkish authorities that the current draft still falls short of EU standards".

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