Political power struggles should not hurt freedom of expression: Foundation chief

Political power struggles should not hurt freedom of expression: Foundation chief

Öykü Altuntaş – ISTANBUL/Doğan News Agency
Political power struggles should not hurt freedom of expression: Foundation chief The power struggles in Turkish politics should not result in a regression of principles such as freedom of expression if Turkey is going to accelerate its accession process to the European Union, Economic Development Foundation (İKV) Secretary-General Çiğdem Nas has said following the announcement of a delayed EU progress report on Nov. 10.

Turkey should change the perception that it is a country “outside of EU standards regarding freedom of press and expression” and demonstrates its determination to join the EU, Nas told Doğan News Agency.

Nas also said the broad authority offered to police officers should be brought under judicial oversight.

The European Commission slammed Turkey over the rule of law and free speech in its report, which was delayed until after the Nov. 1 elections. The report “emphasizes an overall negative trend in the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.”

Nas said she agreed with these stances, calling for a reform process with respect to decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in a bid to remove these headlines from subsequent progress reports.

“The internal security law gives police a free hand; those powers should be under judicial review. It is crucial to assure tolerance against criticism and Internet freedom, while hindering a level of insults and expressions encouraging violence,” Nas said, noting the upsurge in detentions over online activities and posts on social media.

“Above all, this is a problem of mentality in general, regarding how human rights and fundamental freedoms are approached in Turkey,” Nas said.

‘EU avoids cooperation in critical report’

The İKV chief also touched on the delay of the EU progress report, suggesting the postponement stemmed from the necessity of cooperation with Turkey in order to tackle the migrant flow from Syria and other countries. “The EU did not want to obstruct the cooperation with Turkey with a critical report,” she said.

Nas, however, dismissed claims that the report would have changed the course of the poll’s outcome if it had been announced before the elections, as “those elections had their own unique dynamics.”

“The European Parliament has also slammed the postponement of the report’s release date. The decision was not a right step to be taken, in principle; it was rather a tactical step,” she said.

Turkey’s “road map” was launched with the readmission agreement and visa liberalization process, she said.

“Turkey will have to review the legal rights of migrants in a new perspective, ensure the control of irregular flow of migrants and provide better conditions for migrants hosted in the country. A new term is upcoming for Turkey, as the country will face issues such as the necessity for a more efficient fight with migrant smuggling and efforts to strengthen borders and increase administrative capacity, within the cooperation with the EU,” she said.

‘Government should treat reform process holistically’

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won back its parliamentary majority in the snap elections.

Asked whether the new government to be formed would change the perception that the EU has been steering itself away from Turkey, she said concerns over fundamental rights and freedoms remain, meaning it would be beneficial to bring reforms and programs into alignment with the acquis, which was set forth by the government in 2014.

“On the other hand, the violations against the freedom of press and expression, along with the internal security law, should not paint an ambivalent picture,” said Nas.

In this regard, the EU, Interior and Justice Ministries – as well as the entire government – should treat the reform process with a “holistic view,” Nas added.

Shift in methodology over 18th progress report

The report announced on Nov. 10 has “opened up an opportunity” to carry relations with the EU to a different level, according to Nas.

In this regard, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn stressed that the EU had a perspective that goes beyond the “migrant crisis” in terms of relations with Turkey, noting that it also takes into account other issues like energy and foreign security, she said.

According to the İKV chief, the progress report also pointed to a shift in methodology, as the report included systematical evaluations rather than descriptive ones, along with concrete suggestions, facilitating the measurement of the process. 

At the same time, EU-Turkey relations include a paradox, according to Nas.

Nas underlined the necessity of laying the cards on the table with respect to “the ultimate target” – achieving EU membership.

“The EU does not have the capacity to integrate Turkey either; they have failed to introduce this perspective as they are tackling with their internal crisis. If a country’s prime minister can say, ‘I do not support Turkey’s membership in the EU’ while progress reports are announced, this means that they are giving conflicting messages, which cancel each other out,” said Nas.

Settlement on Cyprus would accelerate talks

Greek Cyprus has refused to lift a veto on accession Chapter 23 on judicial and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom and security.
“Cyprus blocked six other chapters in 2009, while due to another decision announced in 2006, no chapters have been allowed to be closed, temporarily. The Cyprus problem is crucial; to solve the issue would speed up the talks,” Nas said.

A challenge that Turkey has been facing stems from calls for a “privileged partnership” rather than full membership, which has been offered by certain countries like Germany.

“[Still], Turkey would also have [the moral high ground] on its side if the EU’s policies remain ambivalent,” she said.