MESOP DOSSIER European Parliament – Strasbourg : Formal debate on ‘Dialogue for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey’ (6th February, 2013)

(6th February, 2013) FULL DEBATE

Lucinda Creighton, President-in-Office of the Council.(EN) Mr President, honourable Members, this afternoon’s debate on the Kurdish issue takes place only a few weeks after the terrible and brutal killings of three PKK activists in Paris last month. We share Parliament’s profound shock at those killings but they serve to underline to all of us the importance of settling the Kurdish issue; that is in the interests of all concerned. A settlement would play a vital role in helping ensure the security and the stability of the region.

The Kurdish issue also has important implications for EU enlargement, which is a key policy of the European Union and a particular priority for the Irish Presidency. It is important for Turkey’s accession process, and is raised regularly in the context of the accession negotiations.

As a candidate country, Turkey has to meet the Copenhagen political criteria, including the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. The Kurdish issue has implications in all of these areas, but also extends to related areas, such as cultural rights and socio-economic considerations. The EU’s accession partnership with Turkey includes a number of priorities which particularly relate to the situation in the East and South-East of the country. These highlight the need for Turkey to develop a comprehensive approach to reducing regional disparities. This means improving the situation in the region so as to enhance the economic, social and cultural opportunities for all Turkish citizens including those of Kurdish origin.

Clearly, the Kurdish issue constitutes a major and longstanding challenge for Turkey. Continuing terrorist attacks make it harder to reach a solution. I wish to reiterate here that the EU and its Member States strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and are working closely with Turkey to combat the terrorist threat. The PKK is listed by the EU as a terrorist organisation. Within the EU, the PKK is involved mainly in fund-raising, including through criminal activity. This has led to arrests in a number of European countries. The EU and its Member States are also active in cooperating with Turkey in combating terrorism and associated criminal activities via counter-terrorism training and information exchange.

Whilst much of these activities are devoted specifically to addressing the PKK, we are also working closely with Turkey in tackling all forms of terrorism, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum in which the EU and Turkey co-chair the working group on the Horn of Africa region.

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. It is a conflict which has claimed far too many victims over the course of three decades and which has created a climate of instability and profound mistrust.

Against this background, the EU is fully supportive of the ongoing talks between the Turkish Government and the PKK aimed at ending the conflict. This is a significant new initiative which offers a positive perspective for the future. We welcome these moves, and we call on both sides to use this opportunity to make real progress. We also welcome the fact that there is cross-party support, and backing from civil society, for this initiative.

There is a clear indication that there is a real desire for peace. We will continue to encourage an approach which is inclusive and broad-based. This is essential if it is to have a chance of success.

A successful outcome would also play a crucial role in Turkey’s own reform process. It would help encourage further political and constitutional reform which is important for Turkey’s EU accession.

This is a courageous initiative and we need to recognise it as such. We are at the start of what is likely to be a lengthy process. Not everybody is committed to it succeeding. Indeed there will always be some who attempt to derail such a process for their own misguided ends.

The killings in Paris remind us tragically that there is strong opposition to any negotiations from some quarters. But such events cannot be allowed to derail negotiations. Our own experience closer to home shows that any peace process requires both courage and commitment. We should therefore give our full and unequivocal support to this initiative. I am sure that Members here will join me in offering their own support.

Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − (EN) Mr President, throughout the years we have consistently underlined that finding a solution to the Kurdish issue and to all the problems in the South-East of Turkey requires the widest possible contribution of all democratic forces and an open and frank public discussion that should be conducted in full respect of the basic fundamental freedoms.

That is why the ongoing discussions are of such historic importance for Turkey. They constitute a great window of opportunity for the ending of terrorism that would hopefully pave the way for an overall solution to the Kurdish issue. The fact that the process has met the support of all stakeholders, notably the opposition, and has been welcomed by important parts of Turkish society gives us more reasons to be optimistic and to believe that the process is truly result-oriented. A successful outcome would not only put an end to a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past three decades: it would solve many outstanding problems in Turkey and play a crucial role in fostering political and constitutional reforms; it would be a strong incentive for the adoption of the Fourth Judicial Reform Package, actually addressing the key problems related to freedom of expression and other fundamental rights; and it would facilitate the redrafting of the constitution with respect to the rights of citizenship.

In this regard, a solution of this 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. In turn, putting the accession negotiations back on the right track would be a strong incentive for supporting a solution for this issue and the reform process in general.

In the meantime, I welcome steps such as the recent adoption of the law allowing for the defence of Kurds in Kurdish as an important confidence-building measure in the context of the ongoing talks. Regarding the redrafting of the constitution, we have understood that it has entered a critical stage. While all parties are to be congratulated for the constructive attitude so far, now is the time for results in the spirit of compromise, and I cannot underline enough the importance of keeping up the participatory process.  Finally, a few words on the tragic events which occurred in Paris last month. We are aware of the distress this triple murder has provoked. We are confident that ongoing investigations by the French authorities will shed full light on this crime. We encourage all parties involved not to let this horrible incident or other possible provocations in the future distract them from their goal to achieve peace.

It is crucial that the European Union as a whole conveys its strong and clear support for these ongoing efforts. It remains equally important that we coordinate our messages of support to Turkey. The Commission stands ready to assist where it can, including in using our financial assistance under our instrument for pre-accession support 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.

Ria Oomen-Ruijten, on behalf of the PPE Group.(NL) Mr President, the past has taught us that peace talks benefit from calm and discretion, and not from public excitement. For that reason, the PPE Group did not consider it necessary to hold a debate on the subject now, because we shall shortly also be debating the resolution on Turkey. President Gül too has said that the right approach would be to talk less and act more – work harder.

This debate was prompted by the dreadful provocations which have occurred not only in Akari but also in Paris. Because not everybody wants peace. An armed conflict has been going on since 1984. It has cost tens of thousands of people their lives. We have always expressed our abhorrence of the PKK’s terrorism. In 2009 we saw signs of a democratic opening. It did not fully come to pass. At the end of 2011 and in 2012, there were then suddenly those talks between the government and Abdullah Öcalan. We hope that a lasting solution will be found, but that will only be possible if it enjoys broad support. In this respect I, like the Commissioner, pay my compliments to the opposition parties which are also making it possible and to civil society, which is now adopting such a positive position towards it.

Negotiation requires courage: you also have to be prepared to compromise. Only then can a historic agreement be reached which will be good for all the people of Turkey. If it is then also enshrined in the new Constitution, each resident of Turkey ought to be satisfied. I am convinced that if such tranquillity and also peace comes, it will in addition pave the way for greater prosperity in south-eastern Turkey.

Raimon Obiols, on behalf of the S&D Group.(ES) Mr President, I would like to express my parliamentary group’s support for the dialogue which has been launched in Turkey with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.

This is probably the most difficult and complex challenge posed by the modernisation and democratisation process in Turkey. It has very powerful and determined enemies both within and outside Turkey. We have already seen, with the assassination of three Kurdish activists a few days ago in Paris, just how far these adversaries are prepared to go. Nevertheless, all Turkey’s problems have a Kurdish dimension at their core, and it is very hard to imagine a situation of democratic stability in Turkey without the Kurdish problem being resolved or well on its way to a solution.  This is why we welcome these talks. We believe that the primary objective must be to put an end to the violence, terrorism and confrontation. Let us listen to what the PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan said to the Kurdish representatives and members of parliament who visited him in prison on 3 January 2013: ‘the time of violence is behind us’. Let us hope this is so! But specific measures need to be taken to create trust, and the first of these must undoubtedly be an end to violence.

The next stage will be a complex and difficult process of political reforms to address the Kurdish issue in Turkey. I once read an article by a historian who said that if all the world’s problems around nationality were ever resolved, the last to be settled would be the Kurdish one. I hope this is not the case. But in any event, the problem is an extremely complex one. But there are things which can be done. There is an opportunity for a new constitution which recognises and upholds the linguistic rights of the Kurds in the media, in schools and in the courts; there is the possibility of fairer interpretation of anti-terrorist laws in Turkey, to prevent them being used as a means of repressing expressions of Kurdish cultural identity; and there is an electoral reform pending, to allow Kurds to express their views in democratic institutions.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, I have a different opinion to my esteemed colleague in the EPP Group. This is not something which can be dealt with quietly behind closed doors. I think there have been so many developments in recent months and years regarding the question of the Kurds in Turkey that it is both right and important for us to debate them here today and to have an open discussion on how to proceed. We need only consider the question of how plausible it would have seemed at one time for the government in Ankara to start a dialogue with someone who was long considered to be a non-person.

 We must realise that every day in south-east Turkey, Turkish soldiers are coming under fire from PKK activists from the mountains. There is the regional dimension – not mentioned here by the Council or the Commission – with northern Iraq and the situation in Syria. In other words there is a situation which, with the Paris murders, poses the question: what will the future hold for the Kurdish problem?

One thing is clear – as Mr Obiols said, the situation for the Kurds in terms of language, schools and the courts has improved. However, at the same time there is a huge campaign of repression against the KCK – people in the south-east of the country who are active primarily in local politics. I think that today’s open debate here in the European Parliament might therefore begin with this discussion and that it can gain momentum – the Kurdish problem is no longer a minor issue for us and we can discuss it openly.

We must get certain messages across. One the one hand to the Turkish government: we deplore the use of terror and understand that no government can accept a situation whereby its soldiers and police come under fire on a daily basis, with some being killed. We urge the Turkish government to continue the dialogue on the island of İmralı. It represents a contact which should not be severed.

However, the wave of arrests of KCK members and the repression must come to an end, and the Turkish government must appreciate the regional dimension of the problem: the south-east of Turkey is no longer isolated. The message to the Kurds is clear: renounce terror (this applies to the BDP but also to the KCK) and violence. And the PKK must rein in its fighters in the mountains, otherwise there can be no dialogue and no peaceful solution.

Hélène Flautre, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Mr President, like my colleagues, I believe the process that has now begun in Turkey to be of crucial – indeed historic – importance, in that it is very different from the attempts made to date – all of which ended in failure – to conduct peace negotiations between the Turkish Government and the Kurds.

This is all about putting an end to a cycle of violence that has been going on for several decades; a cycle of repression and revolt that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. And I would point out that, for the families – the mothers, the daughters, the sisters – of all of those who have died, the grief is the same, irrespective of whether the victims were policemen, soldiers, guerrillas or civilians. We need to put an end to that pain and to embark on a new stage in Turkey’s democratic journey, because the Kurdish question is a taboo subject which, as can be seen from the debates in Turkey’s national assembly, is currently throwing the political landscape into sharp relief, dividing those in favour of progress on citizenship, equal rights and local and regional governance from supporters of a hard-line approach rooted in the nationalist past.

Then there are the vital regional issues already alluded to, which are behind the government’s determination to move unswervingly along the path towards negotiations and peace and which have key implications for regional stability.

It is clearly no easy matter to establish mutual trust following decades of mistrust, violence and hatred. It is no easy matter to be positive and to learn the language of reconciliation, peace and democracy. But however difficult it may be, it would be an error of historic proportions not to do so, and one which would have drastic repercussions. The people who took peacefully to the streets in Diyarbakir to mourn the three Kurdish militants, with no acts of provocation from any side, made this very plain. The people have said that they want peace, and that desire for peace is being respected. I believe that this very strong message from the people of Turkey can provide the positive energy required for the players in this process to put the quarrels and animosity of the past behind them.

No one is denying that it will be difficult. So much is involved. It is a process that will involve the national assembly making changes to the constitution and will require face-to-face discussions with the armed wing of the PKK, the many Kurdish activists scattered around Europe, the Kurdish people and the political party that represents it, the BDP. All of these players need to show the same commitment, each in its own sphere of influence, to building peace and democracy in the country.

Given that Mr Öcalan has been recognised as the overall leader of the movement and that the government has more or less given in to the huge public campaign in favour of him becoming the Kurdish community’s spokesperson and negotiator, he now needs to be given the wherewithal to carry out the historic task facing him. He must be allowed to do his job, to be able to talk to all of the various strands of the movement so as to be able to strike a balance that will create a win-win situation for all stakeholders and further the cause of peace and democracy in the shared interest of all parties in Turkey.

Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (EN) Mr President, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict is now the only major insurgency taking place within a member or candidate state of the European Union. After almost 30 years of tragic bloodshed, the deaths of many thousands of civilians as well as combatants and the displacement of an estimated three million Kurds, actions must now be taken to ensure that no more lives are lost and that all the people in Turkey, regardless of their culture or ethnicity, are accorded full human rights enshrined in law.

Although I support Turkey’s development and welcome it as an economic and social partner, we cannot deny that the country’s human rights record has been questionable over the years, particularly with regard to minorities. The Kurdish population of Turkey has been culturally and institutionally alienated. Although the Turkish state has introduced some positive measures in recent years, the Kurdish language remains subject to restrictions as a language of instruction in schools, and organisations promoting the Kurdish minority have also been heavily discouraged. There are also worrying allegations that Turkey has relocated Kurds to different parts of the country in order to dilute the culture and the perceived military threat.

As a modern democracy, Turkey must now permit the Kurds to exercise their full cultural and linguistic identity within the existing borders of the Turkish state. Certainly my group accepts that encouraging a separate Kurdish state would pose a very real risk of destabilising the region further, drawing in Iraq, Syria and Iran and fermenting further conflict.

The Kurdish population also has a part to play. The Kurdish paramilitary organisation, PKK, must now fully renounce all violence and engage in meaningful, peaceful talks with Turkey without preconditions. In this I welcome the moves to involve Abdullah Öcalan. Even from prison as a convicted criminal, his influence cannot be underestimated. As with so many other conflicts, then, it is often necessary to negotiate with one’s worst enemy – we have experience in the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland with the IRA, the Spanish with the Basque terrorists and so on – in order to achieve a shared goal of peace.

Finally, I too utterly condemn the brutal murder of the three PKK activists in their Paris office last month. The perpetrators must be brought to justice and not be permitted to derail the fragile peace negotiations between the Kurdish population and the Turkish Government.

Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group.(NL) Mr President, the dismantling of the Kemalist State in Turkey by the AKP made the Kurds enormously hopeful. They hoped that their own ethnic national identity would finally gain official recognition.

After more than 10 years during which the AKP has been in power, this ardent desire among the Kurds is still very far from having been satisfied. The bewildering inconsistency displayed by AKP governments was indubitably responsible for this. Prime Minister Erdoğan recently exemplified this. On the one hand, he spoke about the supra-ethnic identity of Turkish citizenship, in which Turks, Kurds and others enjoy equal rights. At the same time he talked about one State, one flag, one fatherland, one nation.

This contradictory position adopted by the AKP also manifested itself in the years after the so-called Kurdish opening or democratic opening of 2009. Secret talks with the AKP, the Oslo talks, cultural concessions on language matters versus – as our colleague Graf Lambsdorff has already said – a very wave of arrests among prominent Kurds. It is small wonder that the Kurds regard this AKP policy as one step forwards, two steps back.

In the meantime, the Kurds have persevered in their efforts to erect a parallel state in Turkey, a reality which Prime Minister Erdoğan also openly acknowledges and militantly rejects. However, that does nothing at all to solve the Kurdish question. One way out might lie in a multi-ethnic constitutional model for Turkey. Otherwise, there is a danger that the race between the Turkish Republic and the Kurdish parallel state will lead to a demand for that parallel state to be granted independence. There are those who are already calling for this – not only Kurds but also Turks (albeit anonymously). The idea is not unrealistic now that Ankara is confronted by autonomous Kurdish scenarios on its national borders.


Jürgen Klute, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, I cannot now put my question to Mr Tannock, but perhaps I can have a few extra moments and start by pointing out that the BDP no longer demands separation from Turkey and has not done so for around 10 years. I think this is important and should be taken into account in the debate: the issue is no longer separation and the breakup of Turkey.


I would also like to say that my group, the GUE, welcomes the bold initiative of the Turkish government at the end of December to enter into dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK. Both sides in the conflict embarked on a process that has aroused considerable hope among international partners but above all among Turkey’s citizens, who have suffered more than 30 years of war and violence.

The talks between the Turkish government and Öcalan represent an important step – one which is, however, merely the first step on the way to a peaceful political solution. The path to peace and reconciliation remains a long one. It can only be trodden if trust can be established. Peace talks are not power games; they can only be won or lost together. These talks were instigated by the Turkish government, in response to years of requests from across the whole spectrum of the Kurdish movement. Prime Minister Erdoğan holds the reins, yet these must be held by all sides if the peace process is to be successful.

 The negotiations must be marked by dependability, and participation in the talks must not become a lottery. The next steps must therefore see the different sides in the conflict agree on the further course of the negotiations and decide together who should take part. The murder in Paris of Sakîne Cansiz, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez on 9 January clearly interrupted the process as it was getting under way. I think I speak on behalf of all the Members present in calling on both sides in the conflict to not allow themselves to be distracted by these murders from the negotiations on which they had embarked.

Andreas Mölzer (NI). – Mr President, the Kurdish question has, I think, been regarded purely as a terror issue for far too long. Quite apart from the question of how realistic scenarios envisaging an independent Kurdish state might be, it must be said that the right of Turkey’s citizens with Kurdish roots to guaranteed fundamental and minority rights must not be dismissed. If we assume that Iran is involved in the Syrian civil war, we must also realise that Turkey is playing a considerable role in the conflict by supporting the Syrian opposition. The high regard in which the PKK is held by Syrian Kurds thereby becomes more of a problem. The open admission of talks taking place with the PKK stems primarily from Ankara being under serious pressure as a result of the continuing civil war in Syria and the real danger that the conflict will spill over into Turkey.

 I believe the current developments show, once again, the tremendous security risk which Turkey’s membership of the EU would pose. It would not be in the interest of the EU and its Member States to be in the front line in a conflict in the Middle East.

Eduard Kukan (PPE). – Mr President, I would like to welcome and appreciate this opportunity to discuss the Kurdish issue today. It is important to support fully all the initiatives which lead to the reopening of dialogue and a possible road to a peaceful solution for the Kurds in the region.

The latest steps taken by the Turkish ruling party aiming to resume talks with Öcalan in promoting peace dialogue could be a good start on this road. It is true that the Kurdish issue has been misunderstood in Turkey. Therefore, I hope that it will be possible to sustain a general consensus among leading parties on the dialogue and possibly get other political forces involved.

There is a very similar challenge for the other side as well. In order to build trust in the process, the Kurdish parties and groups should come on board and lay down arms. Moreover, with the latest developments in Syria and escalating political tensions in Arbil province in Northern Iraq, it is vital that Turkey seeks a political solution. It is important to stop any violence, especially against civilians; this is our most important goal at the moment.

Syria and Iran in particular may not be comfortable with a stronger Turkey in the region. These two countries have in the past used the PKK to destabilise Turkey. I believe a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue could make Turkey only more powerful in the region; this is in the interest of the European Union too.

Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, it is necessary to examine the Kurdish problem in the overall context of the human rights situation in Turkey since the two issues are inseparable. After so many years there can be no doubt as to the need to end the conflict between the Kurdish people and the Turkish Government.

The direct overtures being made by Mr Erdoğan reflect a realisation that the problem can be solved only by means of political dialogue and not through violence. However, the current situation in Turkey gives no cause for optimism in this respect; many Kurds still being detained for long periods without trial and arrests continuing a daily basis, none of which is doing anything to sow the seeds of better understanding.

In what is an already tense situation, the murder of three PKK activists in Paris may indeed prove to be the final straw. Basically, it is essential for talks to proceed and for proposed solutions to take account of the interests of both sides and of the dignity and future prospects of the Kurdish people while respecting their basic rights.

Turkey is undergoing a process of profound change and now finds itself at a crossroads, being called upon to decide whether it wants to become a modern, democratic state respecting the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens. It is within its power to resolve this ongoing problem affecting not only Turkey itself but also the stability and peace in the surrounding region.

Andrew Duff (ALDE). – (EN) Mr President, both sides appear finally to have realised that their previous antagonistic positions have comprehensively failed, so while we can strongly welcome Turkish rapprochement with the Kurds and the pacification – if it comes – of the PKK, I think we also have the right to ask from Turkey moral, political and perhaps military support for the fight to combat the jihadists in the Sahel and the Middle East. The JPC will be in Ankara next week and we shall be seeking clarification from Turkey about reciprocal support to fight terrorism.


Barbara Lochbihler (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, in December I took part in a visit to Turkey by a delegation from the Subcommittee on Human Rights during which we found out more about a range of human rights violations in Turkey. Those violations included the humiliation, defamation, persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders throughout the country, although the region of Mersin was mentioned especially frequently. The pro-Kurdish BDP party had achieved particularly good election results in that region.

 In the past many journalists, academics and intellectuals who spoke out on behalf of the Kurds, who exercised their right to freedom of speech and who were therefore branded and criminalised as terrorist sympathisers were put on trial; things are no different today. Hundreds of human rights activists who have been accused of supporting the KCK are in prison or are being threatened, even though there is no actual evidence against them. Kurdish BDP party members who have been elected to national and local assemblies are likewise in prison or awaiting trial.

This is no basis for a political settlement. The process of drafting the constitution, which is supposed to grant ethnic minorities more rights, also seems to have come to a halt. It is difficult to reach agreement on the issue of nationality, and the anti-terror law, education in Kurdish and a lowering of the 10% threshold for national elections are no less controversial.

I urge the Council and Commission to support those who are defending the rights of the Kurdish minority and are therefore in prison or have been convicted by courts which are in no way independent.


Mirosław Piotrowski (ECR). – (PL) Mr President, for a number of years the European Parliament has been receiving requests from the Kurdish community for intervention and mediation concerning their status and treatment in Turkey. Roughly 15 million of Turkey’s citizens are Kurds, yet perceptions of them are often based on the stereotype of a terrorist or a beggar. They are citizens of Turkey just like other minorities there: Armenians, Tatars, Assyrians and so on. All ethnic should enjoy a guarantee of equal rights and coexistence on the basis of mutual respect and trust.

We recognise that the Kurdish question has many dimensions. On the one hand terrorist acts attributed to Kurdish guerrillas are widely publicised, while on the other hand Kurdish civilians are suffering too. The process of normalisation cannot proceed too rapidly, but should go ahead gradually, in line with a predefined roadmap for peace. EU representatives can play an active role as mediators or intermediaries. Turkey, which for many years has been seeking membership of the European Union, should be more interested than anyone in achieving a peaceful resolution to the situation regarding its Kurdish minority, because an internally divided country cannot become a member of the European Union.

William (The Earl of) Dartmouth (EFD). – (EN) Mr President, there are already approximately 200 000 Kurds living in the United Kingdom. The Kurds in the United Kingdom are concentrated in our large cities where, even at the present time, there is profound pressure on public services, especially health and education.


According to the Home Affairs Select Committee of the British House of Commons, should Turkey become a member of the European Union, up to 4.4 million Turkish citizens, of all ethnic groups, would emigrate to Britain, where they would then have the right to benefits and the NHS.


I do not blame the Kurds for wanting to leave. Ankara has a decades-long policy of denying them elementary linguistic and other cultural rights. However, the solution is not mass immigration to the UK and other EU Member States. The solution is that Turkey start to treat its minorities with decency and respect.


We should make it crystal clear that Turkey, an Asian country, cannot join the EU.


Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL). – (FR) Mr President, it is with considerable emotion that I speak today in the Chamber.


On 9 January three Kurdish militants, Sakîne, Fidan and Leyla, were assassinated in cold blood in an information centre in the heart of Paris. I knew one of the three personally.


These horrible murders have triggered an unprecedented wave of emotion. Many people who believe in democracy have become aware of the tragedy of the Kurdish people. Fifty thousand people demonstrated in Paris on the Saturday after the murders. This demonstration prompted various comments and some speculation, including by the Turkish authorities, and I find this regrettable.


Ever since the murders, I have been saying again and again that French justice has to be allowed to take its course and that we have to call on the French Government to ensure that there is no interference whatsoever in the judicial procedure. These murders, like others and various other machinations in Turkey and in some countries in the European Union, can in fact only be seen as attempts to destabilise the peace process that has barely begun in Turkey.


This is a turning point. The European Union must lend its weight to this cause, and not only, Commissioner, by providing financial aid. It must throw its political weight behind this cause. It has been able to do this elsewhere. Everyone who knows the situation in Turkey knows that the Turkish authorities use the fight against terrorism as a pretext to imprison Kurdish militants and all those who are fighting for democracy, whether they are journalists, lawyers, intellectuals or people from many other walks of life. Eight to ten thousand people are political prisoners in Turkey. This cannot continue.


The European Union and its Member States must be careful not to lay themselves open to criticism in this matter. Political cooperation cannot continue without clarification of the very definition of the word terrorism. The PKK, with which the Turkish Government is openly negotiating today, must be removed from the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations. All those living in Turkey are entitled to live in peace and to have their rights respected in the same way. The future of the region is at stake.


The European Union must help all the players to move beyond what I will term their personal hang-ups. It must actively support the peace process and throw its full weight behind it, so that at long last it can be brought to a successful conclusion.


Ewald Stadler (NI). – (DE) Mr President, unlike the previous speaker, I regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation. It funds itself by means of arms trading, terrorism, drug trafficking, prostitution and the extortion of protection money. For that reason, it remains a terrorist organisation. On that basis, I have every understanding for the Turkish Government’s position. That Members on the left should take a different view is no surprise.


Today’s debate reflects a very naive view of Turkey. Do you know what Turkey did with the European Union’s progress report? It quite simply translated it incorrectly and submitted the faulty Turkish translation to its parliament. The Minister for European Affairs, Egemen Bağış, described the European Union’s comments on Turkey as subjective, biased and narrow-minded. What is more, during a live broadcast on CNN Turkey the Chair of the Turkish Constitutional Commission threw the progress report in a bin. Why would anyone want a partner like that? Is a country which has yet to recognise the Republic of Cyprus, an EU Member State, a partner which can be taken seriously?


The wrongly translated Commission report refers to Greek-administered southern Cyprus. This is monstrous. Even today, the Armenian genocide is still described as an alleged genocide. This is monstrous. The Turks deny that the Kurdish problem exists. The Turks continue to deny that a military operation took place in which 34 civilians in Uludere were killed, or to put it more accurately, murdered. Turkey continues to deny this. Why would anyone want to have dealings with a country like that?


This country is not ready for EU membership. This country does not belong in Europe. My hope is that Turkey never becomes an EU Member State. Eighty percent of the Austrian population is against Turkey joining the European Union, and for that reason we will continue to oppose Turkish accession.


György Schöpflin (PPE). – (EN) Mr President, the Kurdish problem was built into the Turkish political system from the outset. The Kurdish population of Turkey was denied its political rights as Kurds and, as the country modernised, they began to demand changes. The Turkish state, with its strongly centralising tradition, refused, and the result was violence: a low-level insurgency that has claimed many lives.


What has changed in the last few years is the slow shift in the attitude of the Turkish Government which is moving, however reluctantly, towards accepting that the suppression of the Kurds does not work. Equally, the emergence of a very extensive autonomy in the Kurdish region of Iraq has shown that Kurds are perfectly capable of acting as a factor of stability and do not threaten Turkish territorial integrity. Against this background, it is vital that the Turkish government recognise that, without accepting Kurds as equal citizens, the Turkish state will be the scene of ongoing conflict, one that will gravely weaken the chances of sustaining a functioning democracy.


Let there be no illusions about this: the change we are discussing requires a redesign of the Turkish state and citizen concept, and a shift away from the mono-ethnic basis that has marked Turkey since its emergence from the Ottoman Empire. It has to become markedly more tolerant towards those of its citizens who are not ethnically Turks or Sunni Muslim. But the Kurds too will have to accept that their future lies in Turkey and that they should not dream of restoring the state that was promised them after the First World War by the West. Territorial integrity, as we know, is a neuralgic point for any state. This is what the transformation is about, and we should not pretend that it will be easy. Giving up bad habits is hard.


Marita Ulvskog (S&D). – (SV) Mr President, I have the right to speak my own language here in the European Parliament, even though I come from a small Member State on the edges of the EU and even though I am sometimes critical of decisions taken here. Compare this with the fact that Kurds in Turkey have now been granted the right to speak their own languages before Turkish courts. It is of course good that they have obtained that right.


But the comparison illustrates quite dramatically how far Turkey still has to go before it can be said to be meeting the criteria that are self-evident for us here in Europe. It is good that Turkey is now open to new negotiations with the PKK – indeed, this is the only option.


There is strong support for peace negotiations among the Turkish people, and as we have heard in this debate it is also very strongly felt that these negotiations should result in clear changes in terms of transparency, respect for human rights, support for human rights and an end to discrimination. Of course, this also makes demands on the PKK.


But there is no alternative: if a country is as big and strong as Turkey, it must start to act accordingly. If you are big you also have to be considerate. If you are big you also need to know when you are overstepping the limits, and it is a real blot on Turkey’s image that the country does not respect democratically elected political representatives. Leyla Zana, who won the Sakharov Prize and is a Member of the Turkish Parliament for the BDP party, is being chased from country to country, in spite of the fact that she is a duly elected Member of Parliament in Turkey.


Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE). – (FI) Mr President, what is on the agenda is bringing about and promoting peace between the Kurds and Turkey. In the previous intervention it was mentioned that improving the linguistic position of the Kurds is one such objective.


We in the EU of course expect High Representative Ashton and the EU as whole to be more active in promoting peace in this region and elsewhere too. High Representative Ashton said when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, and has said subsequently, that it was awarded particularly for the EU’s work of reconciliation. I would like to make so bold as to express a somewhat different opinion, as the EU has been too passive as a peace mediator and in bringing about peaceful reconciliation. In promoting progress with regard to Turkey, the EU could be far more active than at present, and in my opinion it has nothing whatsoever to do with the accession issue: peace and respect for human rights in Turkey are important irrespective of whether or not it is a member of the EU.


Mark Demesmaeker (Verts/ALE). – (NL) As this debate shows once again, the solution to the Kurdish question is in the hands of the Turks. And at last, if the reports on the peace process are accurate, it seems as if Ankara has understood that it holds the key to the solution of the Kurdish question in its own hands in the form of Abdullah Öcalan.


But I also view with a certain scepticism the most recent tentative positive developments. They have happened, but they are too few and too slow. Because each time that Turkey has opened one door to democratisation, it has closed another. I am alluding to the ban on the DTP in December 2009, as a result of which the famous ‘democratic opening’ by the Erdoğan government was not followed up. I am alluding to the KCK trial, unworthy of a State where the rule of law prevails, and the innumerable arrests of everybody who criticises the regime, which make Turkey the biggest prison in the world for journalists.


I therefore urge the Commission, the Council and the Member States not to be blind to this danger but to work vigorously for lasting political dialogue with all Kurdish political forces in the country and not to be prepared to dance to Turkey’s tune. Without full language rights, political autonomy, abolition of the abnormally high electoral threshold of 10% and a full constitutional reform entailing recognition of Kurdish rights, Ankara’s intentions will continue to run counter to the European values which it claims that it wishes to respect.


Adam Bielan (ECR). – (PL) Mr President, Kurds make up almost 20% of the population of Turkey, a country which aspires to join the Union and which is an important member of NATO. Turkey’s prolonged internal conflict poses a serious threat to its political stability and has an impact on the whole of its society. The Kurdish question is particularly delicate in the context of events in Syria, where Ankara intends to undertake military operations.


Striving to achieve integration with Europe, the Turkish authorities have already made significant achievements in their dialogue with the Kurds: the ban on the use of their language, which the Kurds have every right to use as a national minority, has been lifted. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government is committed to respecting the democratic principles of freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Kurdish demands concerning citizenship and reform of the electoral law also need to be discussed. But the terrorist activities absolutely must come to a stop. Compliance with the recommendations of the Turkish army to disarm is a prerequisite, especially since the fighters have been promised that they will be free to leave Turkey.


Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD). – (PL) Mr President, I hope and pray that the recent overtures being made by the Turkish Government reflect a sincere desire to resolve the Kurdish question and end the conflicts which have claimed thousands of lives from 1984 up to the present day. Given that the Kurds make between 15 and 20% of Turkey’s population of 75 million, it is clear that a resolution of the Kurdish question is of great geopolitical importance for the security and stability of the entire region, all the more so in view of the fact that it involves four countries, all now in a state of upheaval.


We condemn the recent killing of the three ethnic Kurdish activists in Paris – a heinous crime – which gives rise to doubts concerning the prospect of successful negotiations in future. We are also concerned at the wave of arrests of Kurdish elected representatives and leading dissidents. Above all, however, we condemn any form of unthinking violence.


We believe in a peaceful solution to the problem and support a political solution to the Kurdish question by means of democratic dialogue, constitutional reform and justice without discrimination.


Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE). – (PL) Mr President, when we talk about a dialogue for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey, we cannot ignore the situation of the journalists reporting these issues. According to independent estimates, Turkey currently has the world’s largest number of imprisoned journalists. Many of these journalists were arrested on the basis of accusations that they cooperated with Kurdish separatists carrying out terrorist activities. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has drawn up a report containing a list of imprisoned journalists – in August 2012 there were 78, of whom 53 were directly connected to the Kurdish issue.


In a global context these figures are horrifying. Turkey is the shameful leader in this field, ahead of even Iran and China. Although recent constitutional reforms have led to the release of some prisoners, there is a noticeable trend towards a lack of media freedom. The impression is given that in reforming a bad law the authorities in Ankara are moving in the wrong direction. Even against a backdrop of reforms and good intentions, the situation is systematically deteriorating.


However, despite these negative signals there have been improvements in the quality of the legislation, which should be highlighted, including the opportunity for defendants and their counsel to use any language they choose. We in the European Parliament should encourage our Turkish partners to fulfil their obligations and to respect human rights.


Sophocles Sophocleous (S&D). – (EL) Mr President it has been made clear – and the majority concur – that Turkey is a major EU partner; that the dialogue which has now been launched gives it a major opportunity to become a member of the European family subject to one major proviso: that it complies under all circumstances with the provisions of international law, the international legal system and of course basic EU tenets regarding the aims and ambitions of European unification. Solidarity and respect for human nights constitute the basic privileges and obligations of the people of Europe. EU membership does not mean being able to pick and choose and cannot be obtained by means of crude threats such as those which are, on occasion, proffered by Turkish officials.


Human rights must be fully respected in practice with regard to both the Kurds and the entire Turkish people. Persecution, arrests, imprisonment and murder are evil and must be put firmly in Turkey’s political past. The right of all citizens to make their own decisions, hold their own opinions and speak their own language cannot be surrendered and still less taken away by force.


The perpetrators of the recent high-profile murder of three Kurdish women in Paris must be tracked down and Turkey must help to ensure that they stand trial for their crimes. The Kurds, like any other people, are entitled to defend their history and take decisions accordingly. I hope and pray that Turkey will forswear expansionism and become a peaceful European country respecting other peoples and earning their respect.


Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – (EN) Mr President, I fully support the point made by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten about making the progress report available in Turkish. That would have been automatic if Turkish had become an official language, as it should have done in 2004 upon the accession of Cyprus.


I strongly welcome this debate. Some of us have tried for many years to put the Kurdish issue in Turkey on the EU agenda. All the EU institutions, not just Parliament, must now give strong political diplomatic and economic support to the dialogue leading to a negotiated solution which allows Kurds, with their language, to be fully recognised and integrated as citizens of the Turkish state. The Commission, High Representative and Council cannot tread any longer around the issues of this matter because it connects so closely with the issues we constantly raise with Turkey: a new constitutional settlement, democratic and journalistic freedoms, the rule of law, the proper role of the army and so on. Solving the Kurdish question is the major key to a stable democratic Turkey at ease with diversity. The EU should press both sides to abandon the military struggle and talk politics.


Franziska Keller (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, I warmly welcome the new peace initiative. It is also important, however, that this initiative should produce an outcome which is acceptable to both sides. Terror and violence are unacceptable and are no way to achieve a solution. What is needed instead is the recognition of the Kurdish minority and a political dialogue in which both sides make concessions. In that connection, the new constitution can help. What does not help are draconian anti-terror laws which put minors guilty of trifling offences behind bars and which are used to intimidate critics of the government.


I strongly urge the Turkish Government not to let this unique opportunity pass, and in fact to seize it now, and I also urge the Commission to support the Turkish Government – not only the Turkish Government, but the Turkish people as a whole and the Kurdish minority. I believe that we as a Parliament can play our part by drawing up progress reports and by addressing this issue whenever necessary.


Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR). – (EN) Mr President, every month I walk by Rue Lafayette near the Gare du Nord in Paris, where three female Kurdish activists were gunned down in January. I would like to express my condolences to the families of these victims.


I hope that the killings do not further unsettle the fragile peace process between Turks and Kurds. Thankfully, I am pleased that last year’s two-month hunger strike by hundreds of Kurdish prisoners and ordinary citizens came to an end without incident. But these events underline the importance of reaching a political settlement on the Kurdish question in Turkey.


I call on the Turkish Government to recognise Kurdish language rights in the public sphere and other fundamental civil liberties. The EU must do all it can to support minority rights in a candidate country of the European Union. The EU should support renewed efforts towards a political solution to the Kurdish issue and help put an end to the 30-year-old conflict which has cost 40 000 lives.


Frank Vanhecke (EFD). – (NL) It is of course a good thing that the European Union is working harder to secure a solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, a conflict which incidentally is also being fought out on our own streets, due to uncontrolled immigration, and not only in Paris, I fear. But ultimately it will still be the Turks and the Kurds themselves who have to find a solution, who will have to reach a settlement.


We ought not to beat about the bush here: if the Turkish Government is serious about a peace initiative, Erdoğan and his people must first release the very many thousands of people who are in prison and whose only crime lies in having expressed support for the Kurdish language and the Kurdish identity. That is the litmus test which must be applied by the Commission and Europe as a whole and on which we must make no concessions. So long as Turkey actively denies and opposes the Kurdish language, the Kurdish identity and Kurdish culture, peace will be impossible.


Μarietta Giannakou (PPE). – (EN) Mr President, the observations made by the Commissioner and my fellow Members underline the united front adopted by the European Parliament in respect of the longstanding Kurdish problem. This is not a recent development and has already claimed many thousands of Kurdish and Turkish victims. It is also right and fair to seek a solution through talks and negotiations. While a certain amount of progress has been made in Turkey in recent years, it is not as yet being reflected in terms of a more democratic approach to European affairs.


The overtures being made by the Turkish Government towards the Kurds are nonetheless deserving of our support and must be encouraged by the Council, Commission and Parliament, as made abundantly clear in the annual report drawn up by Ms Oomen-Ruijten on behalf of Parliament. This is course must be steadily maintained. Any conflict or continued attempt to thwart a peaceful solution will not only undermine Turkey’s attempts to achieve greater democracy but, even more importantly, be harmful to the Kurdish people also.


Finally, I believe that everyone is in favour of this initiative and that all of us deeply regret what occurred in Paris – that is to say the coldblooded murder of three female activists, behind which there were doubtless ulterior motives such as the desire to undermine the dialogue initiated by the Turkish Government with the Kurdish people.


The fact is, Mr President, that in Turkey certain facts are not acknowledged. It was previously pointed out that Turkey does not recognise an EU Member State. This does not mean that we do not wish for close relations with Turkey and progress towards its accession. However, it must do its part in continuing the dialogue and that is the message we must send, since only through dialogue and negotiation can such problems be resolved.


Emine Bozkurt (S&D). – (EN) Mr President, we are here today because we want to give out a clear signal that we support the process to solve the Kurdish issue. We also strongly support Turkey’s struggle against terrorism. I believe these two should go hand in hand.


What is needed is not a superficial conflict resolution but a wholehearted, sincere transformation of the mentality which has dominated so far, a transformation that will begin with understanding the reasons behind the demands of citizens of Turkish-Kurdish origin. This should also be the starting point which will lead to the creation of a true democracy in Turkey based on the equality of every citizen, not just on paper but in practice and in the hearts of the people. Let us not waste time on anything aiming for less.


It is of course also very important to support the necessary legislative changes. In this regard it is crucial that the Fourth Judicial Reform Package is adopted to improve democracy, freedom of speech and human rights, and this is also valid, of course, for the new constitution. We are ready, as always, to support Turkey in achieving a higher level of democracy and human rights.


Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR). – Mr President, in recent years Turkey has done a lot to establish dialogue with the Kurds. This is a political fact. The objective should be for the European Union and the European Parliament to apply pressure to ensure this dialogue takes place and is effective. Let’s be honest, on both sides, I stress on both sides – as we have already seen in this room – there are elements, political groups, people who do not want this dialogue, who want to remain entrenched in their positions. That is the way things are both on the Turkish side and on the Kurdish side. I think this is demonstrated even by the recent tragic events in Paris. The role of the European Parliament is to insist on respect for human rights, but also to demand realistic action to achieve specific, tangible results step by step. That is what I am in favour of.


Jacek Olgierd Kurski (EFD). – (PL) Mr President, the past few decades have been a period of major tensions and re-evaluations in the Middle East. One of the key challenges is the Kurdish question. Recent years have seen a wave of important changes for the region. Turkey has addressed the Kurdish issue – internally it has softened its intransigence towards the Kurdish minority, and externally it has acknowledged that the Kurds are one of the key partners in the region’s politics. As a result, the Kurds have achieved substantial de jure autonomy, and de facto full independence.


But as well as hope, this also raises some concerns: drug trafficking and weapons smuggling routes pass through Kurdish areas. The Kurds are the key to further developments in the situation in Syria, a solution to which is vital for Turkey. So even if the recent changes in Turkish policy have been dictated by a certain pragmatism, self-interest and Machiavellianism, it is worth talking about consolidating these changes, especially in the context of international law. The European Union should support the continuation of the Turkish-Kurdish dialogue.


Michael Cashman (S&D). – (EN) Mr President, I make these comments as a friend of Turkey but I have to say that, worryingly, since 2009 over 8 000 pro-Kurdish politicians, lawyers, academics and writers have been arrested on charges of terrorism. Journalists are the latest group to go on trial.


Prosecutions often form a pattern where critical writing, political speeches and participation at peaceful demonstrations are used as evidence of terrorism offences, and this approach is unacceptable. A solution can be found and will be found, but only by including both sides. Therefore we need to work together with Turkey and those elements that wish to reach a solution, so that the EU can be an effective intermediary. The government needs to reform oppressive laws that jail legitimate Kurdish politicians and to make amends for the excessive behaviour of its security forces.


The Kurdish movement, including PKK leaders, must denounce terrorist attacks, must distance themselves from terrorist attacks, and publicly commit to realistic political goals. Above all else, politicians on all sides must legalise the rights of most of Turkey’s Kurds, including mother-language education, an end to discriminatory laws, fair political representation and more decentralisation.


Ismail Ertug (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, I believe that peace is a realistic possibility, as it was between 2005 and 2011, the period covered by the truce. That period brought the most significant developments in the area of Kurdish rights ever seen in Turkey, ranging from the establishment of a television channel which can broadcast 24 hours a day in Kurdish to the fact that persons appearing in court can now be defended in Kurdish, with the costs borne by the Turkish State.


When I see, however, that Turkey is still dragging its feet when it comes to the introduction of teaching in Kurdish, and when I consider that Turkey still has no civilian constitution, then I realise that further progress is needed. As part of that process the anti-terror laws must also be revised, because they are at the root of many of the problematical developments in Turkey. I also feel it is important that the Turkish Parliament should give some thought to the 10% threshold, not least with a view to clearing the way for the provision of economic assistance to south-east Anatolia.


It also goes without saying, however, that violence can never be the solution and the PKK must also lay down its arms if a peaceful, lasting solution for all Turks is to be achieved.


Ana Gomes (S&D). – (PT) Mr President, the murder of three Kurdish activists in Paris last January was revolting and cowardly. Its aim was undoubtedly to obstruct the negotiation process started between the government of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, led by Abdullah Öcalan, to achieve the gradual disarmament of the PKK.


 The Turkish Government and the PKK are faced with a unique opportunity to reach a historic agreement.


The dialogue also needs to lead to the political, cultural and socioeconomic inclusion of the Kurds in Turkish society. Turkey has a duty to guarantee the right of its citizens to freedom of expression, association and protest, which cannot exist alongside the repression and detention of Kurdish leaders and activists.


When drafting a new constitution, the Constitutional Conciliation Committee needs to launch a democratic process reflecting the diversity of Turkish society. Civil society needs to be included. It is imperative to reform the anti-terrorist and penal laws so that they no longer restrict legitimate expressions of Kurdish identity.


It is imperative for the new constitution to enshrine the rights of the Kurdish minority, including the use of the Kurdish language in schools, and in this respect I salute the Turkish court which recognised this right yesterday, making today the first day on which all institutions, including the courts, will be able to conduct their proceedings in Kurdish.


It is vital that the Turkish police forces curb the excessive use of force during Kurdish street demonstrations. The armed struggle in southern Turkey must end, and in this respect I urge the PKK to lay down it arms and the Turkish Government to free Kurdish political prisoners. The High Representative must assist the Turkish Government in drawing up a viable, consistent solution to integrate citizens of Kurdish origin into Turkish society as part of the process of Turkey’s accession to the EU.


Lastly, I wish to point out that Turkey is often singled out as a model for the Arab Spring countries, but unless it democratically resolves the Kurdish question, Turkey’s soft power in the region will lack substance.


Richard Howitt (S&D). – (EN) Mr President, some in this debate have once again used this issue simply to bash Turkey; they have no interest in specific political and human rights of the Kurdish community. However, those of us who have pushed for this full European Parliament plenary debate do, and it is right that those arguments are aired. We seek to persuade Turkey that, although their definition of what it means to be a minority is different from the one adopted in this Chamber, as a future member of the European Union, supporting a pluralist society in which minority rights are fully accepted is part of being a member of the European Union and is not a threat to the unity of the state.


We want our Turkish friends and colleagues to understand that we understand that this is a difficult and sensitive issue in their society. I would never have believed myself that there would be direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, but the progress that has been made has been made because we have applied constant pressure, and we must continue to do so, as we are doing in this debate today. In that context, it is not just for the government to move: I would like to acknowledge the movement by the opposition Republican People’s Party, the CHP, that has taken place.


Teaching of the Kurdish language in Turkish schools is essential, as is its use in police stations and courts and elsewhere in public service. I welcome the new law for Kurdish to be used in legal defence. However, when I went to a court case in the KCK trials in Diyarbakir, I was prevented from entering the courtroom, and I saw the defendants’ lawyers walk out because Kurdish was not able to be used in those cases, although I had been told beforehand that an opportunity would occur. Many mayors and political activists remain in jail, arrested because they campaigned in the Kurdish language, and it is essential that all political prisoners are released.


I join with others who say that the Kurdish community itself must distance itself from violence and must support disarmament and not be triumphalist, as occurred when demobilisation took place. For either side there is no military solution to this conflict. The winner must be peace.


President. − (EN) Colleagues, in principle we should now have catch-the-eye, but as the Commissioner has to leave shortly I will give the floor to the Commissioner and we will have catch-the-eye after the Commissioner.


Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − (EN) Mr President, thank you for understanding; no disrespect. Can I make four observations, as this debate is reaching its final stages? First, on the point which has already been mentioned a couple of times, I can confirm that our progress report – and this has been the case for a number of years now – is translated every year by our delegation into Turkish and is put on the website of our delegation.


The second point I would like to make is that I was happy to note in my meeting yesterday evening with a representative of the BDP party – and I saw some of them observing our discussion – that Kurdish politicians and civil society remain fully committed to a successful outcome of these talks. I can only encourage them to maintain this constructive, solution-oriented approach and to resist any provocative action aimed at distracting them from the pursuit of a peaceful solution. We discussed with them what the Commission could do to advance the rights of the Kurds, and as many of you actually referred to this, I would like to say the following.


On the one hand the Commission monitors the compliance of Turkey with the political criteria, of which respect for the rights of people belonging to minorities is an important component. We raise issues of concern on a regular basis with the Turkish authorities and assist them where we can in their reforms. I would mention the work done in the working group for the chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights (Chapter 23) under the positive agenda, in which we are working with Turkey on, notably, the adoption of a human rights action plan. I am looking forward to making this chapter available to the Member States as an open chapter, so that we can benefit fully from its transformative power.


We also have a number of projects financed by the pre-accession instrument in South-East Turkey, such as Project M for the empowerment of women, a training project for children on mines and other waste products of conflict, and a project in support of local research on disappearances, unsolved murders and mass graves in South-East Turkey. But we also have programmes targeting the environment and transport infrastructures.


We run projects worth over EUR 400 million which benefit, directly or indirectly, the South-East, and obviously, should a wider effort be requested to support a post-conflict and reconciliation strategy, the Commission would be ready to support this, including through financial assistance.


My final point, if I may: I interpret this debate as strong support for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue and for current talks stressing, as you rightly did, the wider context for this: reforms in Turkey. Because of that it has been a very good debate.




Csaba Sógor (PPE). – (HU) Mr President, everyone talks about the need for dialogue when the subject of peaceful solutions to conflicts outside the EU comes up. We are repeating this call today as we discuss the issue of the Kurds in Turkey. But are we doing all we can to ensure serious debate of the needs of national minorities in Europe? Can the European Union’s international partners take seriously its calls for them to engage in dialogue on the matter of minorities when in the EU itself the Commission does not consider itself competent to put violations of minority rights and the needs of indigenous national minorities on the agenda?


I believe the problems of national minorities require a European solution, and this is why, in the spirit of the European Year of Citizens, this question must be tackled by the European institutions. All EU citizens have the same rights: not only when settling in another Member State but when they want to live in their native countries as citizens of the EU. If we can make progress here, we might be taken seriously when we stress the need for dialogue in similar matters internationally. National minorities nowadays are discriminated against in Hungary, where they are not allowed to use their national symbols. Hungary is a Member State of the EU in which not only are minorities not permitted to speak their own language but they are also deprived of their nationality.


Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D). – Mr President, the Kurdish issue is a long-standing and unresolved problem in Turkey. The Uludere incident and the recent killings of the three Kurdish women clearly show, once again, how difficult is the road to peace if Turkey evades its responsibilities. Now is the time for the EU to send a clear message that it encourages an extensive dialogue between the two sides in order to reach a solution. The EU must press Turkey to reform its judicial system to protect individual freedoms and respect the rights of all its minorities. There is no excuse for Turkey to use terrorism as an alibi for further violations of human rights.


Let us not underestimate the fact that the Kurdish issue and the Cyprus issue – as well as the human rights violations in Turkey – remain the main obstacles to Turkey’s European accession. Will Turkey show a real political will to move forward to overcome these obstacles by fulfilling all its obligations towards its people, its minorities, its neighbours and the EU? As a Cypriot MEP, I have my doubts, having monitored Turkey’s provocative behaviour towards my country, Cyprus, and its people.


Krisztina Morvai (NI), blue-card question. – I would like to ask Mr Sógor a question in our mother tongue – Hungarian. I am sorry the Commission representative is no longer here, but I would like the record to show that I too have found that the European Union cares not a jot about the situation of the indigenous Hungarian minorities and other minority groups. Could Mr Sógor list, for the sake of the minutes, some examples of the kinds of abuses of rights which are taking place and say that the European Union takes no notice of these and why we should draw attention to the fact that it is setting a very bad example within its own borders by not taking notice of indigenous minorities and protecting their rights? I would like to ask for examples and ways in which the European Union could deal with these matters if it wanted to.


Csaba Sógor (PPE), blue-card answer. – It would be a long list, so I will mention just a couple of examples. Measures penalising communities have been in place in some Member States since the Second World War – Fascist laws as I would call them. The Beneš Decrees. Citizens are deprived of their rights – it is not, as one of our colleagues stated, a question of the Kurds being able to use their mother tongue in the courts; minorities cannot do this in Romania either. Bureaucracy is used in the eastern part of Romania to intimidate children who try to complete their optional three hours of classes in their mother tongue. I could give many more examples. The solution would be for us not to be afraid of, for example, the EU introducing a framework law to protect national traditions and minorities, on the model of the Roma, and of invoking the Copenhagen Criteria subsequent – not only prior – to Member States’ accession.


Tunne Kelam (PPE). – Mr President, I think today’s debate indicates that the time has possibly come for a breakthrough in this longstanding tragedy. Dialogue with a clear commitment to abstain from violence is the only way to build a minimum of trust between the two parties. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s meeting with Mr Öcalan is a sign that the Turkish Government might be willing to start such a dialogue.


However, responsibility lies with both sides. The Turkish Government, as a government, still has a chance to show more generosity, and it holds the keys to provide genuine freedom of expression and fundamental rights for all citizens of Turkey. That means freeing Kurdish journalists and activists from prison and providing the Kurdish minority with the right to use their language and cultivate their national identity. Increased socio-economic aid to the Kurdish-populated regions could also be helpful, and the EU is there to play a more active part in this.


Jelko Kacin (ALDE). – Mr President, Mr Erdoğan and Mr Öcalan deserve our clear and unwavering support. This is a historical process. A process such as this is only possible when the negotiators involved have political courage. Both men have it.


Look at the example of the high-level dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, where a huge amount was achieved in the space of just a few months. President Nikolić and President Jahjaga are meeting right now in Brussels. We must encourage Mr Erdoğan to begin such a dialogue with Cyprus as well. We need a breakthrough, and a strengthening of mutual trust.


Resolving the Kurdish issue in Turkey is a strategic process that is crucial to the stability of the region, particularly for Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is right that the European Parliament should encourage and help both sides, not least in order to enable Turkey to begin negotiations on chapters 23 and 24.


Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, I too consider that the Turkish authorities could continue to improve the situation of the Kurdish minority, in line with the recommendations contained in the Commission’s report on enlargement. I welcome the recent adoption by the Turkish Parliament of a law which makes it possible for Kurdish defendants to use their mother tongue before the courts. Similar measures could also be adopted in respect of use of their mother tongue in education and in other facets of civil life.


In order for trust to be restored between the two sides, the PKK needs to definitively cease its operations in Turkey and honour the undertakings it has made. The ending of hostilities would be a historic outcome and provide a sound basis for future discussions. Negotiations could become a possibility once consensus is reached on amending the constitution.


Franz Obermayr (NI). – (DE) Mr President, the Commission has quite rightly expressed serious reservations concerning respect for human rights and freedom of expression in Turkey. Those reservations reflect the undemocratic way in which the Turkish State deals with Kurds, Armenians and Christian minorities. Turkey clearly regards minorities as a threat to its identity, hence the reluctance to implement reforms.


One month ago came good news in the form of the dialogue on a solution to the Kurdish problem, which took place on the prison island of Imrali. Sceptics, however, regard this as nothing more than a show put on for the EU’s benefit. After all, the murders in Paris, the imprisonment of Kurdish politicians, journalists and artists, and the conditions in which they are being held, and, on the other side, the PKK’s terrorist activities paint a very different picture.


As has been emphasised in this Chamber, the EU is more than a glorified customs union. It is a union of values founded on shared historic and humanitarian ideals and must therefore insist that Turkey, and also the PKK, respect those values and ideals, in particular when the two adversaries see fit to conduct their dispute on the soil of EU Member States.


(End of catch-the-eye procedure)


Lucinda Creighton, President-in-Office of the Council. − Mr President, I would like to thank all the Members for a very thoughtful and a very important debate. I am grateful to those Members who have expressed their support for the steps taken by the Turkish authorities to make progress towards a lasting solution to the Kurdish issue. I realise, as we all do, that the obstacles to a breakthrough remain formidable.


Many of you have referred to the recent brutal murders in Paris, and I think this clearly shows that there is strong resistance in some quarters to making any progress. I also think that it is very important that we do not allow this to derail the crucial process of dialogue between both sides. I think that this certainly is a strongly-held view in this Chamber, where the vast majority of speakers in this debate have talked about the need for dialogue to move forward and, to quote Mr Kelam, ‘to achieve a much-needed breakthrough’. I think that is certainly the objective.


Notwithstanding the difficulties that exist, I am convinced that the Turkish authorities deserve our full support and encouragement on this path of dialogue. Settling conflicts in our near neighbourhood is not only in our interest, but it is very much in Turkey’s interests. This is even more the case at present as Turkey is confronted with significant pressure as a result of the conflict in Syria.


A number of you have raised the issue of the link between the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. I also touched upon this in my opening remarks. We have repeatedly underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach to the issue. The conditions must be created to allow the predominantly Kurdish population in the East and South-East of Turkey to enjoy full rights and freedoms and full respect for human rights, and we hope that Turkey’s current work on a new Constitution will provide a framework for several important reform efforts, including with regard to the Kurdish issue.


In conclusion, I think that it is important that all EU institutions and all Member States will be watching very closely and very carefully the progress that is made in Turkey as this process evolves.


President. − The debate is closed.