AKP should take EU report as a guiding spirit for reforms

AKP should take EU report as a guiding spirit for reforms

After nearly a month of delay, the European Union released its annual Progress Report on Turkey which both details the deficiencies of Turkish democracy and outlines a short-term list of priorities for the acceleration of accession talks. 

The report heralds the rapidly approaching opening of Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy that would underpin envisaged high-level economic dialogue with Turkey. However, it recalls the need to define the necessary benchmarks to open Chapters 23 – judiciary and fundamental rights – and 24 – justice, freedom and security – which are key chapters to provide a road map for Turkish reforms. 

This year’s report is slightly different from previous ones as it provides a list of priorities for every chapter and for the meeting of economic and political criteria. As Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu already announced that they were working on a set of reform to be announced within a few weeks, this list of priorities introduced by the EU will be beneficial if the next government pays attention. 

It was no surprise that the report singled out the state of freedom of expression and of assembly, judicial independence and impartiality, as well as the laws restricting the use of the Internet.

“After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years, with some level of preparation in this field. While it had been possible to discuss some sensitive and controversial issues in a free environment, ongoing and new criminal cases against journalists, writers or social media users are of considerable concern. Changes to the Internet law, which are a significant setback from European standards, increased the government’s powers to block content without a court order on an unduly wide range of grounds.”

On the rule of law, the report urges Turkey to create a political and legal environment that allows the judiciary to perform its duties in an independent and impartial manner, with the executive and legislature fully respecting the separation of powers; limit the role and influence of executive power within the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and provide sufficient guarantees against transfers of judges against their will; as well as introduce further safeguards against any interference by the HSYK in judicial proceedings.

On the fight against corruption, it calls on Turkey to strengthen the independence of the prosecution and law enforcement agencies in high-level corruption cases; adopt legislation ensuring deterrent sanctions for corruption offences and ensure their effective enforcement; and adopt an updated anti-corruption strategy and action plan setting out a clear vision while selecting a realistic number of priorities to tackle corruption effectively, as well as establish an independent anti-corruption body in line with U.N. Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provisions.

On freedom of expression, the EU urges a number of steps to address shortcomings detailed by the report, especially on the freedom of press. Here are the EU’s expectations from Turkey in the coming year: 

-Act against the intimidation of journalists in all forms, especially in investigating all physical attacks and threats against journalists while actively preventing attacks on media outlets, but also defuse the tense political climate, which creates an environment curtailing freedom of speech in the media and on the Internet.

-Ensure that the defamation law and other similar offenses are not used as a means to put pressure on critics by ensuring courts are fully aware of and apply the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

-Ensure that existing legislation, notably the Internet law, complies with European standards and is implemented in a manner which ensures proportionality and equality before the law.

The report also outlines Turkey’s 12-month priorities in every chapter so that the accession process can be accelerated. 

This new format of the Progress Report is well-designed and can be used as a good tool for the Turkish government if it wants to accelerate accession talks. As cited in the detailed report, Turkey’s next government should prioritize the amelioration of the state of freedom of expression and the press in Turkey.

This requires a complete mental revolution on what freedoms and rights are – something that should apply to all top Turkish leaders, including the president.