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September 13, 2010
EU urges Turkey to go further with internal reforms
Turkish citizens on Sunday (12 September) approved a constitutional reform that would weaken the influence of the military, but the EU has warned it will keep a close watch on the implementation of the changes and urged further fundamental rights reforms.
The proposed changes, passed with an estimated 58 percent in favour and 42 against, would allow civilian courts to try military personnel for crimes against the state and opens the way to prosecuting those involved in the country's 1980 military coup.
They also allow for more appointees to the constitutional court and for the parliament to be involved in selecting more of the judges. Other changes include lifting the ban on politically motivated strikes and the recognition of the right to protection of personal information. The final results of the vote are expected to be officially announced on Monday.
The Yes vote is a blow to the influence of the country's military and a boost for the justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rooted in political islam, and provides a strong platform the party as the country heads into general elections next year 2011. Mr Erdogan is seeking to win a third term.
Ahead of the referendum, opponents of the changes said they would undermine the military and the constitutional court, traditional enforcers of the country's secularism.
Mr Erdogan for his part said the reforms are what is required of Turkey to join the European Union.
The EU, for its part, "welcomed" the referendum result but said it would be keeping a close watch on how to the proposed changes are implemented.
"A number of implementing laws will be needed and we will follow their preparation very closely," said enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele in a statement.
"We share the views of many in Turkey that today's vote needs to be followed by other much needed reforms to address the remaining priorities in the area of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion," he added.
A strategic partner?
Turkey became an official candidate for EU membership in 2005 but the pace of talks has been extremely slow both due to the slow progress in the country's internal reforms as well as a refusal by France and Germany to consider full membership for Ankara.
The stakes have changed for both side lately however. While the EU is increasingly fretting about its stature on the world stage, Turkey's own regional and global influence has grown.
This has led to more bullish statements by Ankara on its EU prospects. After a meeting with EU foreign ministers over the weekend, Turkey's top diplomat Ahmet Davutoglu said: "I expressed our dissatisfaction with the speed of the negotiations, I expressed it clearly."
"Turkey will never accept any replacement or any alternative to the accession process", he said, according to AFP, after a strategic dialogue with the EU on key areas of interest, such as the Middle East, was mooted. "Without a momentum in negotiations it's difficult to develop such a strategic vision," he said.
But Ankara's growing role is being being recognised by some in the EU. "Turkey today has more influence in the world than all the EU member states on an individual basis," said Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb.
EU leaders are meeting in Brussels later this week to discuss the bloc's strategic priorities.