Europe needs to show patience and prudence with Turkey, maintain unity on the Kosovo final status issue and ensure that a European perspective is held out for all countries in the Western Balkans, said Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday.
Debating with MEPs and Members of national Parliaments, the Commissioner addressed the problems of the Western Balkans, singling out Croatia as an example for others to follow. Given the current crisis around the Presidential elections in Turkey, and the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy (an outspoken opponent of Turkish accession to the EU) in the Presidential elections in France, most MEPs were interested in Turkey’s prospects for accession.
Commissioner Rehn reminded Members that the decision to start accession negotiations was taken by all Member States unanimously, and that it was a long-term process. He asked Member States to refrain from statements on Turkey’s accession to the EU until the negotiation phase has come to a close. He described the country as undergoing „a difficult but historic process of transformation,” which could lead to both crises and opportunities. In particular, Commissioner Rehn emphasised that a new Parliament, government and President could reignite the impetus to further pursue necessary reforms in Turkey.
With respect to the recent flaring of the debate about secularism in the country, Commissioner Rehn insisted that „this is a debate for civil society and politics in Turkey to decide by themselves.” He recalled that there exists a diversity of views in different Member States of the EU on the relationship between religion and the state, and that each state has the right to decide these issues on its own, provided that it respects democratic values.
Commissioner Rehn was optimistic about Croatia’s prospects for EU accession, stating that if reforms are kept on track, the country could be able to meet all conditions for membership by the end of the decade. „Croatia is a sound benchmark for the other countries of the Western Balkans,” he said, urging others to follow its example. The Commissioner was less enthusiastic about Serbia, and said he was „troubled by the inability of the reform-minded and pro-European parties to form a government.” He welcomed the Parliament’s initiative to draft a report on Serbia. On Kosovo, Commissioner Rehn stressed the need for EU unity on the final status question, and said he was „satisfied that we have recently been able to further reinforce our unity.”
He also said the importance of a European perspective for Kosovo, as it is „the glue which is holding together the reform processes of the Western Balkans.” Gisela Kallenbach (Germany) said that Bosnia-Herzegovina seemed to be taking „two steps forward, three steps back” in its police reforms. Commissioner Rehn replied that the political situation is „alarming” in the country, and that the progress made on reforms needs to materialise in substance. István Szent-Iványi (Hungary), asked for an explanation of the ongoing delays in the implementation of the new Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA). Commissioner Rehn replied that he shared the MEP’s concern, as it undermines the Commission’s efforts and credibility in the region, and urged the Council to work out the linguistic technicalities which are hampering the Instrument’s implementation. (EP Press)