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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 15:44 GMT
EU urges Turkey to reform
guenter verheugen
Guenter Verheugen urges political reform in Turkey
Turkey has been advised that it must show a firm commitment to political reforms as it aims for eventual membership of the European Union.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who is visiting Turkey to develop a pre-accession strategy, said the pace of reform depended on domestic political will.

Mr Verheugen was speaking at an Istanbul university at the start of a two-day visit.

He told a meeting on EU enlargement: "Fundamental political change is needed.

If you start the process right my view, it is only a couple of years and you are discussing a completely different situation

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen
"Regarding political reforms, we expect a firm commitment to continue the process which was successfully launched, and to proceed on issues like the revised penal code, the new civil code and enhanced independence of the judiciary."

Turkey was made a candidate for EU membership at Helsinki in December, but was not invited to join 12 other candidates in talks until it had achieved progress on democratic reforms.

The EU and Turkey are scheduled to draw up an accession strategy by October, detailing what reforms and harmonisation measures Ankara should take and when.

Turkish integration with Europe has in the past been blocked by its poor relations with Greece, the Cyprus problem and by criticisms of its human rights record.

Bulent Ecevit
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is meeting Guenter Verheugen
But Mr Verheugen said the EU understood there was "great willingness" to address sensitive issues like freedom of expression, and he saw potential for rapid progress on reforms.

"If you start the process right my view it is only a couple of years and you are discussing a completely different situation," he said.

He saw potential for development on the economic front followingTurkey's $4bn, three-year accord with the International Monetary Fund designed to slash inflation.

"Turkey could make fast progress now, with its clear strategy on structural reforms backed by the IMF and World Bank," he said.

Mr Verheugen is due to meet Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on Friday.

george robertson
Nato Secretary-General George Robertson is in Turkey
Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson has meanwhile arrived in Turkey for a two day visit which is expected to focus on Turkey's role in the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) initiative.

Robertson's itinerary includes meetings with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and Defence Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu.

The Nato secretary-general will also have talks with President Suleyman Demirel on the sidelines of a meeting of a Nato-related association in the Mediterranean port city of Antalya on Friday.

Turkey, a Nato member since 1952, has voiced objections to the ESDI on the grounds that non-EU members like itself will be excluded from the decision-making mechanism.

But in mid-February, two months after being declared a candidate for EU membership, Ankara said it was ready to contribute a brigade for a planned European defence force due to become operational by 2003.

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