Penal reform brings Turkey closer to EU

Posted in Europe | 27-Sep-04 | Author: Stephen Castle| Source: The Independent

Press photographers take pictures at the extraordinary Turkish parliament session in Ankara.

Turkey's bid for EU membership talks passed a crucial test yesterday when the parliament in Ankara backed legal changes to underpin the country's reform programme.

The overwhelming vote in favour of a revised penal code clears the way for the European Commission to recommend the start of EU membership negotiations with Ankara.

It follows a pledge by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that he would shelve controversial plans to outlaw adultery, an initiative popular with his Islamic-rooted party but widely condemned in the EU. The row over adultery had threatened to derail Turkey's membership bid amid a war of words between Brussels and Ankara.

Mr Erdogan took the unusual step of convening the parliament on a Sunday to press ahead with revisions of the penal code. The changes, which are supported by reformers and campaigners for women's rights, will create tough penalties for those convicted of rape, paedophilia and torture.

Four days ago, the European commissioner for enlargement, Günter Verheugen, said that, once the penal reforms were approved, there would be "no more obstacles" confronting Ankara.

Mr Verheugen is due to publish a report on 6 October assessing whether Turkey has made sufficient progress on human rights. The document is almost certain to recommend the start of membership negotiations though it will be sharply critical of some aspects of life in Turkey.

EU leaders will take the final decision in December.