Ankara looks at bright side of EU’s bittersweet report

Ankara looks at bright side of EU’s bittersweet report

BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
Ankara looks at bright side of EU’s bittersweet report

This file picture dated on June, 23 2014 shows Turkey's current Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, then EU Minister, smiling between a Turkey national flag (L) and an EU flag, before taking part in the EU-Turkey Association Council meeting in Luxembourg. AFP Photo

Ankara is looking on the bright side of a bittersweet European Union progress report, as EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır used noticeably positive language when discussing the content of the report, describing it as “constructive and objective.”

Bozkır, who took over his current post from current Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu around a month ago, also announced that his ministry would no longer release “Turkey’s own progress report,” a practice started in early 2013 by former EU Minister Egemen Bağış in reaction to EU criticism.

“Criticism [in the report] has been made with constructive language. We see that it is a constructive and objective report. We will take note of the fair and reasonable criticism and use it as a constructive element … These are reference documents on which we will work,” Bozkır said Oct. 8, speaking at a press conference a few hours after the release of the EU’s latest report.

He also said there were some points in the report that he found unfair, particularly concerning the judicial system, but stressed that he preferred to discuss these matters with counterparts from the EU first, rather than communicating through the media.

Echoing a recent statement by former EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, Bozkır stressed that there was “no alternative” to Turkey’s accession process.

“Reform, transformation and communication are the key words of our accession process,” he said, while announcing that his ministry would launch a new communication strategy on Oct. 16 in a bid to draw “a mutually accurate picture of the EU and the people of Turkey in each other’s eyes.”

In its report, the European Commission identified government interference in the judiciary and bans imposed on social media as major sources of concern regarding Turkey’s candidacy for full membership.

“The adoption of legislation undermining the independence of the judiciary, massive reassignments and dismissal of judges and prosecutors and even detention of a high number of police officers, as well as blanket bans imposed on social media” are among the negative points made by the European Commission in Turkey’s annual progress report.  

It also noted the lack of sufficient “dialogue” in the implementation of new legislation. “The tendency to pass laws and decisions, including on fundamental issues for the Turkish democracy, in haste and without sufficient consultations of stakeholders is a matter of concern as well. All this stresses the need to engage in an effective dialogue, both within the country and with the EU to ensure that further reforms in the area of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms follow European standards,” the report said.

However, on the positive side, it also remarked on a number of significant steps taken by the Turkish government over the past 12 months. These included the adoption of an Action Plan for the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, the entry into force of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement and the simultaneous launch of the visa dialogue, as well as the “democratization package” that was passed as part of the process aiming for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue.

It also noted with pleasure how several decisions in violation of fundamental rights and freedoms have been overturned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court. “Legislation limiting freedom of expression, including the Law on Internet, was adopted and the effective exercise of this freedom was restricted in practice, exemplified by blanket bans on YouTube and Twitter. These were later overturned by the Constitutional Court,” the report said.

The main sources of concern in this year’s report center around the judiciary, which has become a key battleground between the government and what it describes as the “parallel state” affiliated to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

“Amendments – later reversed – to the Law on High Council of Judges and Prosecutors [the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors / HSYK] and subsequent dismissal of staff, as well as numerous reassignments of judges and prosecutors raised serious concerns over the independence, efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers [are all areas of concern],” it stated.

Under the subtitle “Democracy and the rule of law,” the report provided a chronology of events following the corruption allegations involving the government which erupted in December 2013.
“In response to the allegations of corruption, the government alleged that there had been an attempted judicial coup by a ‘parallel structure’ within the state, controlled by the Gülen movement. Prosecutors and police officers in charge of the original investigations of 17 and 25 December were removed from their posts. A significant number of reassignments and dismissals in the police, civil service and the judiciary followed, accompanied by legal measures in the judiciary. A significant number of police officers were detained. In September, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office decided not to prosecute 96 suspects allegedly involved in the December corruption case,” it stated.

“As part of that response, key legislation, including on the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and on the Internet, was drafted and adopted in haste and without consultations,” it added.

A call for member states to engage with Turkey

According to the European Commission report, the political climate in Turkey has become marked by increased polarization in recent years. Several pieces of legislation proposed by the ruling majority, including on fundamental issues for the Turkish democracy, were adopted without proper parliamentary debate or adequate consultation of stakeholders and civil society, it added.

“These issues underline the importance for the EU to enhance its engagement with Turkey on rule of law issues. It is in the interest of both Turkey and the EU that the opening benchmarks for chapters 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, and 24 - Justice, Freedom and Security, are agreed upon and communicated to Turkey as soon as possible, with a view to enabling the opening of negotiations under these two chapters,” it stated, also sending a message to member states.

Turkey became an associate of the bloc in the 1960s, but accession talks launched in 2005 became bogged down in a dispute over Greek Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognize as a state officially representing the entire divided island, and opposition from Paris and Berlin.

Since it began accession negotiations in October 2005, Ankara has opened only 14 of the 35 policy chapters, and only one of the open chapters has been provisionally closed.

As a result of Turkey not having fully implemented the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement, which requires it to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes, the EU decided in December 2006 that eight negotiating chapters could not be opened and that no chapter could be provisionally closed until Turkey meets its obligations.