EU slams Turkey's rights record

2015-11-10 22:03
Turkish flags fly in the wind during a demonstration on Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. (Gero Breloer, AP)

Turkish flags fly in the wind during a demonstration on Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. (Gero Breloer, AP)

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Brussels - Turkey has curtailed freedom of expression and undermined the independence of its judiciary, the European Commission said on Tuesday, in a highly critical report that could clash with efforts to win Ankara's co-operation in handling migrant flows.

The report, part of an annual package on progress by countries aspiring to join the European Union, had initially been expected in October.

The commission has been accused of delaying its publication beyond the November 1 elections in Turkey, which delivered a victory to the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The EU's executive argued that it was waiting for the most suitable time.

"The delay in making Europe's position public in advance of the Turkish elections could be said to have had a domestic political impact on those elections," Socialist EU lawmaker Richard Howitt said.

His colleague Rebecca Harms of the Greens called the move "irresponsible".

But EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn said the process was more important than the timing.

"I think the substance of this report proves how serious this policy is ... and that the assessment is independent of any particular elections or other events," he told journalists.

Ankara has been seeking EU membership since 1987, but the negotiations have frequently ground to a halt - mostly because of Franco-German opposition and tensions with Cyprus. The EU has also often criticised Turkey for its questionable human rights record.

"Over the past year, significant shortcomings affected the independence of the judiciary, as well as freedom of assembly and freedoms of expression," Hahn said of Turkey, as he presented the report in the European Parliament.

"Reforms in these key areas are an indispensable priority in Turkey's accession process - in Turkey's own interest," he added.

The commission report said that in 2015 "the pace of reforms slowed down" in the country, due in part to "protracted elections and the continued political divide." The year also saw "an overall negative trend in the respect for rule of law and fundamental rights" in Turkey, it warned.

It slammed the "increased pressure" on the media in conjunction with the November elections and limitations on the use of the internet.

Turkey passed new laws on the rule of law, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly that "ran against European standards", the report charged.

It noted that "substantial efforts are needed to restore the independence of the judiciary", which has been in decline since 2014, adding that "judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure".

The report also took note of Turkey's security situation, after a two-year ceasefire between the state and the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) collapsed in July. Hundreds have died in ensuing clashes.

"The escalation of violence in the east and south-east since July gave rise to serious concerns over human rights violations," the commission wrote, describing as "imperative" the resumption of peace talks between Ankara and the country's Kurdish minority.

It further lamented Turkey's "inadequate" track record in the fight against corruption.

The EU has nevertheless been controversially working to secure Turkey's help in stemming the flow of refugees making their way to Europe. Many transit through Turkey. Hahn was due later Tuesday to visit the country with Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans for further talks.

"This report highlights how wrong it would be for the EU to try and outsource its refugee crisis to Turkey, in exchange for progress in enlargement negotiations," said EU lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt, of the liberal ALDE group.

The other EU membership hopefuls for which the commission issued progress reports are Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Hahn in particular praised the progress made by Serbia, and expressed confidence that the first negotiating chapters in its EU membership talks could be opened this year. He warned Macedonia that the start of its accession talks hinged on efforts to resolve an internal political crisis.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he does not expect any new countries to join the bloc before 2019.

Read more on:    eu  |  turkey  |  human rights

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