Vienna, 8 November 2006 Press release

Plassnik: "You cannot stay put and make progress at the same time"


Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik sees European Commission’s progress report on Turkey as sobering and welcomes the presentation of a report on the absorption capacity

Vienna, 8 November 2006 - Today, the European Commission presented its annual progress reports for the Western Balkan states and Turkey. For the first time it also submitted a separate report on the EU’s absorption capacity.

The Foreign Minister proposed that those comprehensive reports be used as the basis for an open debate among EU Member States about enlargement. "We must not push the political debates to one side, but must address the matters openly. We need an overall political assessment. A serious and thoughtful approach is necessary, particularly in the current critical stage of enlargement. We should not go arbitrarily into reverse, but rather strive for an objective and realistic analysis that is made with circumspection, prudence, and the necessary persistence on both sides: both with regard to the EU’s absorption capacity and the satisfaction of the accession requirements. This is what the citizens expect," emphasised Plassnik.

Plassnik expressed her satisfaction with the European Commission's confirmation that all Western Balkan states had made progress on their path towards realising the European perspective: “One of the objectives of our EU Presidency was to ensure that the course can be held. This is in the interests of Austria, the Balkan states and the long-term stabilisation of South-Eastern Europe. We want to contribute to a Europe-oriented development of the societies and economies of our neighbours in the Balkans. This will bring Austria more security, more jobs, and more growth.”

The Foreign Minister emphatically welcomed the presentation of a report by the Commission on the EU’s absorption capacity. “This document is characterised by a red-white-red thread. After all, it was us who made the EU’s absorption capacity a precondition for Turkey’s membership and who during the Presidency assigned the Commission the task of submitting this report. A principle persistently brought up by Austria has thus been firmly anchored in the enlargement debate,” said Plassnik. The report was an initial success. The important thing, however, was that it should not remain a one-off affair but yield specific operational consequences for the enlargement process. It was therefore decisive that the Commission’s report had announced a sort of ‘follow-up cost calculation’ for key areas in the current negotiations. “It is obvious that the dimensions at stake in the case of Turkey are quite different from those of Croatia,” continued the Foreign Minister.

Referring to Turkey, the Foreign Minister in a first response spoke of a “sobering assessment of the status of reforms”, adding that “after a year in which the negotiation process started, not least thanks to the efforts of our Presidency, we have now reached a de facto standstill – both in terms of political reforms and the normalisation of relations with Cyprus. Furthermore, Turkey lacks positive dynamics”. “It is disappointing that such important areas as freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, and combating torture basically remain at the same spot as they were a year ago. The movement here must come from Turkey, not from the EU,” continued the Foreign Minister.

Regarding the Cyprus problem, Plassnik said: “Zero movement on the part of Turkey can also lead to zero movement in the accession negotiations.” In September 2005, the EU had explicitly stated that shortcomings in the implementation of Turkey’s obligations vis-à-vis all Member States would impact the negotiating process as a whole. Consultations within the EU would now follow as to what this progress report actually meant for the negotiations with Turkey.

“There have been warnings and signals for many months now. Negotiations are obviously not a suitable means of increasing the zeal for reforms in Turkey. You cannot stay put and make progress at the same time,” said Plassnik, who also emphasised: “Nobody wants to question the close partnership with Turkey or stop Turkey’s path to reforms. A systematic and cautious rapprochement of Turkey and its population with European values and standards is in the interests of all EU Member States. However, we have to set realistic goals and must not ask too much of each other. In doing so we shouldn’t forbid thinking. Alternatives to full membership, as demanded by Austria from the very beginning, should form an honest part of the debate,” concluded Plassnik.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Press Department
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