"A Change in Mentality Is Needed!"
In December the European Union is due to announce when and if membership talks with your country can take place. What do you think Brussels will decide?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: We are doing everything we can to influence this process in a positive way and to fulfill the criteria issued in Copenhagen for accession talks. At this point there are no problems with legislation on reforms.
When I asked Mr. Verheugen (EU Enlargement Commissioner) during his last visit here what we had to do to complete this legislation, he answered that Turkey had already done everything, but that there were still problems with implementation.
We know that too, because implementation requires a change in mentality. That's part of a process and we are making every effort to push this process forward as fast as possible.
While the EU Commissioner was here, he was presented with reports from human rights organizations that say systematic torture continues in Turkey. Is that charge baseless or unfair?
Erdogan: These allegations are completely unjustified. They are totally groundless charges. Our ministry launched an immediate investigation. And we have also been conducting inquiries into who initiated these accusations. Unfortunately, it is charges of this nature which are hindering Turkey's attempts to integrate into Europe.
And I have the impression that's something Verheugen is all too aware of. We have a zero-tolerance policy on the issue of torture. Systematic torture is unthinkable in a democratic system.
Up until now it's been viewed as an open secret in Brussels that on October 6th the EU Commission would say yes to opening membership talks. Now a dispute has unfolded concerning proposed reforms to the Turkish penal code which have since been put on hold. Where do things stand now? Will the penal code be reformed, and when will the reforms become law?
Erdogan: Turkey's new criminal law is not part of the Copenhagen criteria. Just as the draft legislation for reforms to the regional Courts of Appeal, or the new code for criminal procedure or the penal code, are not part of the Copenhagen criteria. These are steps we are taking as preparatory measures for moving towards the European Union.
And it should not be forgotten that at this point there is only a common European constitution, but the EU has NO common code of criminal law. We are undertaking this reform of criminal law on our own initiative. And I'm convinced that's something our European friends will appreciate.
Even so, the section which would make adultery a criminal offence is especially controversial. Is that something that is essential for you, or could you take that section out of the reform package if Brussels were to insist on it?
Erdogan: This new law comprises a total of 346 paragraphs - and as such it is not necessarily so easy to appraise from a distance. It would be unwise to restrict the discussion to the issue of adultery. For us in the Justice and Development Party, traditions are very important.
We stand for conservative values. These principles are written in our party political program and are part of my government's stated policy goals. That is the aim of this article of law. It's intended to protect and strengthen the family. The family is the most dynamic factor in Turkish society.
Moreover, this article of law was on the statutes between 1926 and 1996 at which time it was directed against women. However, the new law foresees that if anyone brings a charge on grounds of infidelity and it comes to a court judgment, men and women shall be treated equally and the punishment shall be appropriate.
Is Brussels exerting too much pressure?
Erdogan: No-one has raised that issue with me. When Mr. Verheugen was here, I put the following question to him: Does Turkey need to do more? He answered 'No', but he did say that there were clear failings in the implementation of the reforms. We're aware of that too. And we also discussed the issue of adultery. Mr Verheugen said that this issue had nothing to do with the Commission's progress report.
He did, however, say that the topic of adultery could influence the decisions on when to begin talks. I think we should now end this debate. There are 25 EU members, not all of which fulfill the Copenhagen criteria. Nonetheless, they are members of the European Union.
German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel has written a letter to political leaders across Europe in which she lobbied against full membership for Turkey and instead pushed for a 'privileged partnership' for your country. You and your AKP party are also members of the conservative camp - are you disappointed in Miss Merkel?
Erdogan: I find it hard to understand Miss Merkel. And she is calling for understanding in our discussions. A privileged partnership is unthinkable in the EU. Any nation that fulfills the Copenhagen criteria can start membership talks.
But we are not yet talking about full membership here, rather commencing negotiations on terms of entry. Therefore we need a fair decision to set the process of negotiations in motion. If this process does not get underway, we will draw our own conclusions from this and take the necessary steps.
I would like to stress that we are pushing for the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria in the interests of our own people. But if there were really to be a negative decision, which I don't believe there will be, then we will call this the Ankara criteria and continue on our own path.
The interview was conducted by Alexander Kudascheff
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