Elitsa Vucheva 7025
Oct 31 2008

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Turkey's role as promoter of regional
stability has improved in the last year, Brussels says in a draft
report on Turkey and the western Balkans' progress towards the EU,
while stressing that Ankara still has a lot to do in a number of
areas before being judged fit to join the EU club.

"Turkey has played a constructive role in its neighbourhood and the
wider Middle East through active diplomacy," reads the draft of the
annual report seen by EUobserver.

"Following the crisis in Georgia, [Turkey] proposed a Caucasus
Stability and Co-operation Platform to promote dialogue between
the countries of that region. [Turkish] President Gul paid a visit
to Yerevan, the first visit ever of a Turkish president since the
independence of Armenia. Turkey undertook efforts as a mediator
between Israel and Syria and conducted a dialogue with Iran on the
nuclear issue," the draft report goes on.

Ankara has itself been stressing its role in maintaining regional
stability and has been multiplying initiatives in that respect lately
- including setting up the Caucasus Platform in the aftermath of the
Russia-Georgia conflict.

It says the platform's objective is to establish regional conflict
resolution mechanisms and broader economic co-operation among the five
countries involved - Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The EU has always insisted that good neighbourly relations are an
important pre-condition for any EU hopeful.

Additionally, "the development in the southern Caucasus also
highlighted Turkey's strategic significance for the EU energy
security, particularly by diversifying supply routes, and underlined
the importance of closer energy co-operation between Turkey and the
EU," the commission says.

Nabucco - the EU-backed planned natural gas pipeline designed to
reduce energy dependency on Russia by transporting natural gas from
Turkey to Austria, via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary - "is a key
element for this," Brussels underlines.

Same problems remain

Turkey has been an official candidate to join the EU since 1999 and
opened accession negotiations with the bloc in 2005.

But besides the progress noted, the commission says Ankara still has
a lot to do in many areas in order to be ready for EU membership.

Notably, "there has been no progress towards normalisation of
bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey has not fully
implemented the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and
has not removed all obstacles to free movement of goods, including
restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus."

In 2005 Ankara signed a protocol to extend its customs union with the
EU to the 10 states that joined the bloc in 2004 - but still refuses
to open its ports to Cypriot ships. Several negotiations chapters
with the EU remain suspended because of this.

Turkey does not recognise the Greek government in the southern part
of the divided island, while at the same time is the only country to
recognise its northern Turkish section.

Earlier this year, commission President Barroso called the issue "the
main obstacle for significant progress in Turkey's accession process."

In addition, reads the report, the country has still a lot to do to
fight corruption and organised crime. It has made "no progress on
alignment with European standards" as regards minority rights and it
needs to push administrative and political reforms further.

"Full civilian supervisory functions and parliamentary oversight
of defence expenditures need to be ensured. Senior members of the
armed forces have continued to make statements on issues going beyond
their remit," Brussels also says. The central role of the military
in Turkish society is often raised as a concern by the EU executive.

The final version of the report will be presented by the commission
on 5 November.