Turkey has been told by the European Union to speed up reforms in order to join the 27 nation bloc.
The European Commission’s annual progress report on Turkish membership agreed that Ankara has improved its handling of human rights issues but concerns remain over press freedom after a media group was hit with a crippling fine. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said: “We have serious concerns over the tax fine against the Dogan media group. It is a quite strong sanction and it might not be only a fiscal sanction but also it feels like a political sanction.” The 2.2 billion euro fine is being seen in the Turkish press as punishment for the media group’s critical stance over government policy. The Dogan group’s newspapers have been openly hostile to the ruling AK party. Guven Ozalp, correspondent for one of those publications, Milliyet, said: “This is the worst part of the report, we can say because this is the first time they (the EC) have accused Turkey over freedom of the press, and there’s some lack. And they are mentioning that there is some political pressure on the press. It’s not good for the process of Turkey because, as you know, freedom of press is one of the fundamental principles of the EU.” In the European Commission report Ankara did receive some encouragement for improving relations with its Kurdish minority. Representatives of Turkish business interests in Europe are also hoping the hurdles that remain can be overcome. Bahadir Kaleagasi of the Turkish Industrialists & Business Association in Brussels said: “Most of the criticisms in the report are already issues discussed very intensively in the Turkish press, in the Turkish media, in the Turkish civic society and we as businesses, we always put these things at the forefront of the Turkish domestic agenda.” Turkey has also recently moved to end a century of enmity with neighbouring Armenia which could derive enormous benefits from the opening of the frontier with Turkey. But on the question of normalising relations with Cyprus there has been little progress, a stumbling block that could ultimately derail Turkey’s drive to join the European Union.