The ruling in favor of Turkey's ruling party was applauded by European leaders as a move to restore political stability
The EU has welcomed a decision by Turkey's Constitutional Court on Wednesday (30 July) not to ban the country's ruling party, the AKP, while urging Ankara to now speed up needed reforms.
"Despite everything, this is a good day for Turkey and for Europe," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn told the Reuters news agency.
"There is a vast majority among the Turkish people who are in favour of European values. I'm sure this played a role," he added.
Cristina Gallach, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, also said that the decision was "positive."
"Turkey is living a tense situation and we very much hope that the decision by the court will contribute to restore political stability," she told the press agency.
Welcoming statements came also from certain member states, with UK foreign secretary David Miliband saying the verdict "is a cause for celebration for Turkey's friends," as it means that "Turkey can follow a more democratic and European path."
Additionally, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said that "an attempt to stage a thinly disguised legal coup" against the Turkish government had failed, AFP reports.
A serious warning
Turkey's constitutional court on Wednesday ruled against outlawing the country's ruling Justice and Development Party — the AKP — which prosecutors had accused of undermining the country's secular system and progressively transforming Turkey into an Islamic state.
Lifting a ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in universities had raised the hackles of secularists in the country.
The party won its reprieve by a narrow margin, however, with six judges out of 11 voting in favour of the ban—just one short of the number needed to close down the AKP.
The judges nonetheless decided that the AKP's budget for this year should be cut in half.
"It is not a decision to close down the party, but it is a serious warning," the court chairman, Hasim Kilic, was quoted as saying by Turkey's Hurriyet.
"I hope the party in question will evaluate this outcome very carefully and grasp the message intended," he added.
The AKP, which had denied the charges, welcomed the verdict.
"The Justice and Development Party, which has never been a focal point of anti-secular activities, will continue to defend the basic principles of the republic," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
A call to 'resume' reforms
For its part, the EU had indicated that banning the ruling party — which would also have resulted in Mr Erdogan, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, and several other AKP officials forced out of party politics for five years — could have had a negative effect on the country's EU accession process.
"Court cases to close political parties are not normal in EU democracies," Mr Rehn had previously said.
However, now that the party escaped the ban, Ankara should focus on speeding up its reform process, the commission stressed.
"I encourage Turkey now to resume with full energy its reforms to modernise the country," said the commissioner in a statement. "The relevant parties [should] work towards sustainable reforms based on a consensus forged through a broad-based dialogue with all sections of Turkish society."
"Alignment of Turkey's rules on political parties with European standards is essential," he added.
"It is a step forward for parliamentary democracy in Turkey," liberal MEP Andrew Duff, in Turkey for the verdict, said. "This implies that accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU can continue."
Turkey won EU candidate status in 1999 and began EU accession talks in 2005.
Before joining the 27-nation bloc however, Ankara is expected to push ahead with reforms in several areas.
Among other demands, Brussels wants the country to limit the power of the military, which still exercises "considerable political influence," to effectively implement reforms on freedom of the speech and to improve protections for minority rights.