BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – The European Union saluted the landslide re-election of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party on Monday and urged him to press ahead with stalled reforms required for EU membership.
Victory for the pro-European conservative party which began Ankara’s accession negotiations in 2005 was a boost for its European aspirations, but big hurdles remain with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy firmly opposed to Turkish entry.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Erdogan and noted his commitment to moving towards Europe. “This(victory) comes at an important moment for the people of Turkey as the country moves forward with political and economic reforms,” Barroso said in a statement on the AKP’s win in a parliamentary election on Sunday. “Prime Minister Erdogan has given his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the European Union,” Barroso added.
Turkey’s negotiations have advanced only slowly because of trade disputes over the divided island of Cyprus and broad public scepticism within the 27-member bloc about the sprawling, poor, secular but overwhelmingly Muslim candidate nation’s bid.
Joost Lagendijk, co-chairman of the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary assembly, said the result was good news for Turkey and Europe provided Erdogan now made up for two lost years by enacting key reforms on freedom of speech and religion. “I would welcome a return to the reform policies of 2003-4 and I have heard from inside that they are planning to do so,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview, citing plans to amend the penal code to change article 301, used to prosecute writers and journalists for “insulting Turkishness”.
EU officials said privately that the Commission’s next annual progress report on Turkey, due on Nov. 7, would have to note a standstill on reform unless the re-elected government took rapid action.
With virtually all votes counted, unofficial results gave the pro-business AKP 46.5 percent, up more than 12 points on 2002, but a more united opposition means it will get 340 out of 550 seats, slightly fewer than now.
The Turkish lira rallied against the dollar on the result and economists said Erdogan could now press on with free-market policies and kick-start the EU talks.
Turkey’s supporters in the EU were quick to hail the result. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he believed the win would bring Ankara closer to the European Union. “They have been re-elected on a very strong reform mandate to continue the European reforms they have been pursuing over the last few years and they’ve been given an impressive mandate by the Turkish electorate,” Bildt told reporters on arrival for an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
Britain, a firm backer of Ankara’s EU entry hopes, urged the bloc to support Erdogan’s efforts to lead a stable government. “It’s very important that across Europe we reach out to the new government in Turkey when it is formed. A stable and secure political situation in Turkey is massively in our interests,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband said before the same meeting. There was no immediate comment from France, but Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country has the highest public opposition to Turkish EU entry, told reporters: “We are all interested in having a modern, dynamic, successful Turkey as a partner for the EU.” “We expect this government that has a good track record over the past years to continue with even more ambition.”
EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini told Italy’s La Repubblica daily Erdogan had already brought Turkey closer to Europe politically and economically and urged him to continue moves to strengthen human rights.