EU VOICES PRO PEACE TALKS : Stefan Gule – Lucinda Creighton – Michael Cashman – Andrew Duff – Ismail Ertug

EU backs Turkey-PKK talks      

By Ayhan Simsek for SES Türkiye 14.2.2013 – : Senior European officials and parliamentarians endorsed the Turkish government’s talks with Abdullah Ocalan during a recent debate in the European Parliament, calling on Ankara to speed up reforms and the PKK to lay down its arms.

“The EU is fully supportive of the on-going talks between the Turkish government and the PKK aimed at ending the conflict. We welcome these moves, and we call on both sides to use this opportunity to make real progress,” Lucinda Creighton, an Irish politician responsible for the EU presidency because Dublin currently holds the rotating office, said in a statement during last week’s session.

She added that there’s no alternative to a negotiated settlement. “Whilst the EU has consistently condemned PKK terrorism, it is clear that the wider Kurdish issue can only be addressed through a peaceful, comprehensive and sustainable solution,” she said. EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule described the talks as “historic,” saying a solution to the Kurdish issue “would have a strong impact on the accession process of Turkey as such, as it would further consolidate the role of the European Union as a benchmark for reforms in Turkey.”

He pledged that the EU would support the talks in concrete ways.

“The [EU] stands ready to assist where it can, including in using our financial assistance to support a post-conflict and reconciliation strategy and to expand further the socio-economic development and the political and cultural rights of citizens of Kurdish origin,” Fule said.

The debate aimed to encourage all parties to work toward a lasting solution, according to Ismail Ertug, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany. “Following the brutal killing of three Kurdish women activists in Paris last month, we European politicians have become more concerned with attempts to derail peace talks,” Ertug told SES Türkiye.

“We want to avoid any negative impact, and would like to further encourage the parties with the strong support of the European Parliament. In the [debate], almost all the deputies, from right to left, underlined their support for the peace talks. I believe that we have achieved our goal with this plenary meeting.”

Andrew Duff, a British MEP who has closely followed Turkey-EU relations, urged Brussels to encourage political reforms supportive of a peaceful solution. “The EU should encourage Turkey along the path of deep democratic reform, entrenched in an entirely new constitution, which will include decentralization of many social and economic powers within Turkey to strong local and regional government,” he told SES Türkiye.

But Bahadir Kaleagasi, the Brussels-based international coordinator of the Turkish Industry and Businessmen’s Association, said the EU’s ability to play a constructive role in the talks would depend on providing a fresh impetus for Turkey’s stalled membership bid. “The European Parliament’s policy of facilitating a solution to the Kurdish problem would only gain significance if the parliamentarians can also give a clear and strong message to the member states … demanding the immediate end to the vetoes to Turkey’s EU membership talks,” Kaleagasi told SES Türkiye.

“Only then EU could regain its positive role in Turkey’s democratisation and development. The on-going hurdles in Turkey’s EU membership talks due to blockages by Greek Cypriots and French are in contradiction with both European values and our common goals.”

Meanwhile, even as they emphasised the EU’s readiness to play a constructive role, European lawmakers were quick to call on Turkey and the Kurds to be mindful of their own responsibilities and the need to compromise. Michael Cashman, an MEP from London, praised Turkey for opening talks with the PKK. He also criticised Turkey’s imprisonment of Kurdish politicians, calling on Ankara to harmonise its anti-terror legislation with EU standards in order to facilitate legitimate political activity. Cashman added that “the Kurdish movement, including PKK leaders, must denounce terrorist attacks, must distance themselves from terrorist attacks, and publicly commit to realistic political goals.”

Duff told SES Türkiye that conditions are ripe for mutual concessions. “Both sides have realised that their previous antagonistic attitudes have both failed: the PKK will never create a separate Kurdistan state in southeast Turkey by force of arms; and the Turkish Republic will never win the battle to placate the Kurdish militants by force of arms,” he said