Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, on Turkey's EU accession journey.

Štefan Füle
Štefan Füle began his professional life as a Desk Officer at the UN Department of Foreign Affairs in the Czechoslovak Federative Republic in 1987, and worked with the UN in various positions until 1996, when he became a Director in the Security Policy Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. After later working in Ambassadorial roles he then went on to be Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to NATO between 2005 and 2009. He served briefly as the Minister of European Affairs in the Czech Republic before becoming European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy in 2010.

Turkey is a country close to my heart.

I have established close contacts and excellent working relationships with my main interlocutors, and would call Minister Bağış as much an advisor as a good friend. I am also glad to have been able to further deepen my contacts with the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which I had the pleasure to address in October 2011.

The aim of today's positive agenda is precisely to build on the achievements of the accession process and our joint interest, and thus give new momentum to our relations, which have passed through a difficult phase.

This means renewed efforts and cooperation in a number of key areas where there is still room for progress and where we have much more to gain by working together than arguing. These areas include support for political reforms in Turkey, the continued alignment of Turkey's legislation with the EU acquis, addressing important trade issues, closer cooperation on visas and migration, a closer dialogue on foreign policy, energy, and the fight against terrorism, and the enhanced participation of Turkey in EU programs.

First, we want to convince Member States to put short-term measures into practice to improve visa issuance to Turkish applicants, and I am aware of the impatience of the Turkish business community on further progress in this area. Under the existing EU Visa Code that is being implemented, measures such as the harmonization of supporting documents; visa fee exemptions for certain categories; extended consular coverage in Turkey by Schengen member states, and a more consistent delivery of multiple entry visas can already bring very concrete benefits to Turkish citizens wishing to travel to the EU.

In parallel, we encourage Turkey to develop a dialogue with the EU on visa policy, mobility, and migration, including illegal migration, to finalize working arrangements with FRONTEX and to initial and sign the readmission agreement that was negotiated with the EU.

Secondly, we aim to take a good look at the Customs Union, and see how we can take concrete steps to have a more effective functioning Customs Union. We need to ensure the Customs Union can remain a key part of our strong fundamentals by addressing in parallel both the current trade irritants (including a more effective way we settle any disputes) as well as Turkey's concerns regarding the free trade agreements that the EU concludes with third countries.

Thirdly, we want to strengthen our cooperation in combating terrorism. The EU strongly condemns terrorist acts and understands Turkey's concerns. Turkey too needs to take steps to intensify cooperation with the EU. For example, a proper law on the protection of personal data would open the door to an effective cooperation with Europol, the EU's police cooperation, and Eurojust, which promotes coordination between judiciaries. In addition, Turkey still lacks proper legislation against the financing of terrorism, in line with international requirements.

The one issue that will greatly benefit all Turkish citizens is constitutional reform. Turkey has a truly historic opportunity; the opportunity to upgrade the constitution to the standards of a modern democracy and to shape a framework that will protect all citizens of Turkey and guarantee their freedoms, whatever their ethnicity, creed, beliefs, and lifestyles. Or, as Prime Minister Erdoğan has stated, the new constitution should bring “the individual, the citizen, and freedoms to the forefront."

I welcome the progress made on constitutional reform, with work having now started in earnest, based on a constructive collaboration among the four main political parties represented in the Grand National Assembly. I have the feeling all are aware of the historic opportunity that is presented, and of the responsibility to make good use of it.

Beyond work on the new constitution, there are other important matters that Turkey needs to address in urgency. The European Commission's recent progress report identified the right to freedom of expression in practice, and the Kurdish issue and the dangerous situation prevailing in the southeast of the country.

On the issue of freedom of expression, the sources of our current concerns in Turkey are well known: a widespread judicial culture that has insufficiently integrated a number of human rights standards as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the legislative framework, in particular the Turkish criminal code and the Anti-Terror Law, which lead to abuses and do not adequately protect freedom of expression in practice.

It is such common goals that make me confident we have a common future; one we can and must shape together, based on a positive agenda.