- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey — A special session of Parliament approved legal reforms yesterday aimed at opening the way for Turkey to begin membership talks with the European Union.

The measure, approved after the governing party dropped a proposal to criminalize adultery that had upset European leaders, came before an Oct. 6 EU report that is expected to recommend the bloc start negotiations with Turkey.

But concerns remained about the commitment to European values by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had supported the anti-adultery measure, and his Islamic-rooted governing party.

“Unfortunately, the debate over adultery has created serious doubts in Europe about Turkey’s determination to preserve its secularity,” Onur Oymen, a lawmaker from the main opposition party, told Parliament before the vote. “Even if this is solved, you’ve created a confidence problem.”

The reform package, the first overhaul of the penal code in 78 years, revamps Turkey’s criminal laws and includes tougher measures against rape, pedophilia and torture, and improves human rights standards.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer must approve the changes before they take effect.

Mr. Erdogan has made Turkey’s entry into the EU his top priority, and the reforms to the criminal code follow earlier changes that broadened freedom of expression, granted greater rights to minority Kurds and trimmed the role of the military in politics.

Hard-line legislators and many grass-roots supporters of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party had demanded that the penal code package include the anti-adultery provision, which led to tensions with the EU and claims that the measure was closer to Islamic law than EU law.

Opposition leaders and women’s groups also strongly opposed the provision, and Justice Party legislators abruptly withdrew the entire reform package Sept. 16.

Mr. Erdogan apparently agreed to drop the adultery provision after meeting Thursday in Brussels with EU leaders, who said afterward that once the penal code was approved, there would be no more obstacles to the EU report.

But while signaling that the report was likely to recommend membership talks, EU officials also have indicated it would be years before Turkey could become a full member.

Many Europeans have serious questions about letting Turkey become the bloc’s first Muslim-majority member. Soli Ozel, a political analyst, wrote in yesterday’s editions of the Turkish newspaper Sabah that the controversy over adultery “has given a lot of bargaining chips to opponents of Turkey’s membership in the EU.”

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