EU letters put pressure on Ankara for disputed laws

EU letters put pressure on Ankara for disputed laws

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
EU letters put pressure on Ankara for disputed laws

Turkey’s EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (R) and Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner for enlargement, speak before holding a meeting in Brussels in this file photo. CİHAN photo

The European Union has sent its fifth letter to Turkey since the emergence of a major graft probe to urge the Turkish government to proceed with caution over contentious bills on the Internet and the judiciary, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

At the same time, the bloc has also expressed its concerns that widespread corruption and graft claims are not being efficiently investigated because of a massive purge of police officers and prosecutors that followed the launch of the Dec. 17, 2013, case, according to sources.

The most recent letter, signed by Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner for enlargement, to EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu arrived in Ankara last week after Parliament approved the controversial Internet Law. The EU Commission confirmed the recent correspondence from Brussels to Ankara, but declined to comment or give details as it does not want to convey its messages via the media.

Earlier, the EU had sent a separate letter on the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) Law and three other letters urging the government to effectively deal with the corruption and graft claims and avoid actions that could undermine or reduce the capacity of the judiciary and police to thoroughly investigate allegations of wrongdoing, ensure accountability and act in an independent manner. Similarly, Brussels has publicly urged the government to take all necessary measures to ensure allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner.

In addition, the same messages were conveyed in the most direct way to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Çavuşoğlu on Feb. 11 during the Turkey-EU Political Dialogue meeting, according to diplomatic sources.

Upon a question from the Daily News, the EU Commission’s spokesperson, Peter Stano, summarized Brussels’ line with regard to the Internet Law. “The law to be adopted imposes important restrictions on the freedom of expression,” he said, citing the obligation for Internet providers to monitor the posted content and keep users’ browsing history for two years, as well as a move to increase the authority of the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) and limit judicial review as important negative aspects of the law. 

With regard to the HSYK Law, Stano said it was crucially important for the rule of law in Turkey. “We have underlined, on a number of occasions, our serious concerns regarding the potential impact earlier versions of this law would have had on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and the separation of powers in Turkey.”

He said the commission would now assess the adopted law “to monitor and report on developments in the country in light of the accession criteria.”

The Daily News has also learned that diplomats from the EU delegation in Ankara last week visited the Presidency and expressed Brussels’ concerns over the Internet Law. “They obviously want Mr. President to return the law to the government, but we believe it’s going to be very hard,” a European diplomat told the Daily News. “We sense President Gül will sign the bill into law.”

Mood in Brussels in worsening

The Turkish government’s insistence in moving forward with the two key laws and continued efforts to undermine the capacity of judiciary and police are seen as worrying in Brussels.
“The mood in Brussels is changing for the worse as EU officials made clear to Davutoğlu and Çavuşoğlu during last week’s political dialogue meeting [given that] the Internet Law and HSYK Law are nearing the end of negotiations. The HSYK Law breaches the principle of the separation of powers, and the Internet Law is fully against freedom of expression, two key values of the EU,” the diplomat told the Daily News.

Under such conditions, the continuation of accession negotiation talks will be harder, as there is little hope for the opening of a new chapter soon. Chapters 23 and 24 are on the agenda of both sides, but given the circumstances, they are unlikely to be opened, given that Greek Cyprus’ will be difficult to overcome. The only chapter that could be opened is Chapter 19, social policy and employment, but the EU is not expected to accept the Turkish government’s proposal to alter the required benchmarks.

“That could happen in a normal-functioning negotiation process, but after witnessing the Turkish government’s move with regard to the HSYK Law, there is not much appetite left for such gestures,” the diplomat said. “There is not much confidence and credibility left for Turkey.”