US, EU step up pressure on Turkey over judicial independence

US, EU step up pressure on Turkey over judicial independence

Turkey’s new EU Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, was in Strasbourg on Tuesday for his first encounter with Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner responsible for enlargement. Just a day before of their meeting, however, Füle disclosed through his Twitter account that the agenda of their discussion would be focused on “EU concerns about recent developments” in Turkey.

Obviously referring the Turkish government’s plans to amend the law on the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), Füle asked the Turkish authorities to consult the relevant amendments before adoption to ensure they were in line with the principles of EU legislation. Although the government has backtracked on its bid to change the HSYK law to increase its control over judiciary, the EU’s concerns remain in place, as it believes the government’s sole motivation is to cover up the corruption and graft operation.

The massive purge of police chiefs and prosecutors and the executive’s resistance in implementing judicial decisions are deepening the EU’s concerns about the state of the rule of law and democracy in Turkey. For many European diplomats, the Turkish government has been rapidly distancing itself from its democratic agenda, particularly since the Gezi Park protests of last year.

Speaking to reporters in Strasbourg, Çavuşoğlu argued that the EU had been one-sidedly informed about recent developments in Turkey, which could lead to incorrect assessments. “There is so much disinformation and manipulation in such a mess. Incorrect information is provided,” he said, adding that they had not received any serious notifications from the EU so far.

The positive effects of the opening of a negotiation chapter and the historic visa deal have long since vanished, something that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will probably witness in person. But Çavuşoğlu is confident that recent developments will not negatively affect the prime minister’s upcoming visit and that everything will be frankly discussed during his talks with EU leaders.

In his parliamentary group speech on Tuesday, Erdoğan briefly responded EU criticisms over the government’s attempt to change the structure of the HSYK, asking whether the EU had a single form for such councils.

“We are repeatedly hearing statements from the EU. I first want to recall this: Please, does the EU have a common position with regard to bodies like the HSYK? Do EU countries select their members in the same way? No. They all have different ways,” he said, while also denying that the draft law was unconstitutional.

The reflections of Turkey’s internal fight on foreign policy are not limited to the EU accession process. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proved not only Washington’s concern, but also its rage over what’s going on in Turkey, where government figures frequently directly or indirectly blame the U.S. for this plot. Washington does not forget that Erdoğan directly targeted at its ambassador in Ankara.

It should not go unnoticed how Kerry raised the issue during the press conference with Davutoğlu on Sunday. “Well, thank you very much, Ahmet. I don’t know if you want to say anything about our conversation briefly on the subject of Turkey-U.S. and internal politics. Or do you want me to do that?” asked Kerry.

“Yeah, you do that. If necessary, I can explain,” replies the Turkish minister, which is followed by Kerry’s statement as follows:

“We did also talk about the importance of both of our commitments to rule of law and to democracy and to the process of both of our countries respecting each other’s political process. And I think the minister understood and made it clear that the United States of America has absolutely no interest in being caught up in or engaged in or involved in the internal politics, the election process of Turkey. And we are not. And I think the foreign minister understands that. And so what is important is that we continue to value publicly and to make sure the people of both of our countries understand our commitment to the strength of the relationship between Turkey and the United States, two important allies, two friends who’ve worked very hard to solve problems, not create them.”

Davutoğlu then underlined that he fully agreed with Kerry, recalling that Turkish-American ties were among the most structured ones in international relations. “This relation is based on mutual respect and a very close consultation in all fields. Turkish democracy is a very mature democracy. In that sense, Turkish-American relations, with special reference to democratic values everywhere, not only in our countries but everywhere in the region and in Europe and everywhere, is the most important value. We will continue our cooperation, political cooperation, based on these common values, and for the future of world, where there will be peace and stability,” he replies.

This promise should be better made to Turkish public opinion and should be endorsed by action. The only strategic way to keep Turkey in the league of democratic nations is to be fully committed to these universal values.