Turkey's government approved Monday, March 19, a program of reforms aimed at gaining EU membership, but the plan failed to address key EU demands to expand Kurdish cultural freedoms, abolish the death penalty and curb the political role of the military.
"This is a project of major economic, political and social transformation. It will require amendments in 94 laws and 89 new laws," deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, in charge of EU affairs, said. “It should be fulfilled in five years at latest. Otherwise, I am afraid we will fail to fit into the EU enlargement calendar," he added.
The program is expected to put a further burden on the embattled three-way coalition of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, which is also in a process of drawing up a new economic strategy to tackle severe financial woes.
European observers in Ankara criticized the program as "vague, with weak formulations and no deadlines." "It does not go far enough. But it's up to the Turks to decide on the pace of their accession," an EU diplomat told AFP. “But still there is a message inside: the government is bound to the EU process," he added.
In the program, which amounts to a response to EU demands outlined in a November document, Ankara refrained from making commitments on liberalizing media broadcasts and education in the language of its big Kurdish minority.
Instead, the text asserts that Turkey's official language, including that used in education, is Turkish. It added that citizens can freely use different languages in their daily lives if this does not aim at separatist ends.
The powerful Turkish army and the coalition's far-right Nationalist Movement Party have expressed reservations on Kurdish freedoms on fears that such rights could encourage separatist-minded Kurds and rekindle the recently scaled-down struggle of Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey.
Yilmaz hinted Turkey could introduce more far-reaching reforms regarding Kurdish rights if Kurdish violence does not revive and the concerns of opponents are alleviated. "I hope the program can be updated if we do not face a new wave of terrorism in the days to come," he said.
Referring to EU demands for Kurdish language-broadcasts, Yilmaz said that existing bans could be "softened," but added that the EU was not in a position to demand clear pledges from Turkey since some of its own members did not allow broadcast on languages other than the official one.
On capital punishment, the document said it was up to parliament to decide under what conditions to lift the death penalty, which has not been implemented since 1984 under a de facto moratorium. The issue is of significance because of the death sentence for treason and separatism imposed on Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in June 1999.
The program said the emergency rule in four southeastern provinces at the heart of the 15-year Kurdish conflict, would be lifted, but did not say when.
Regarding the political influence of the military, the document said that Turkey's main decision-making body, the army-dominated National Security Council, was only an advisory body. "Related constitutional and other provisions will be revised in the mid-term to define more clearly the council's structure and functions," it said.
In the program, Ankara pledged legal amendments to improve freedom of thought and expression, enhance the campaign against torture, speed up court procedures and improve prison conditions.
On the thorny Cyprus issue, Ankara insisted that the long-divided island should be reunified on the basis of equality between the breakaway Turkish republic in the north and the internationally recognized Greek Cyprus, a stance that the international community rejects.
Ankara said it would continue to improve ties with EU member Greece, an archrival with whom relations have recently thawed. Foreign Minister Ismail Cem will officially submit the program to the EU in Brussels next Monday. — (AFP, Ankara)
By Sibel Utku
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)