The European Commission’s annual report on Turkey, published on Wednesday (10 October), calls for a resumption of negotiations with the EU candidate that are stalled because of the long-running territorial dispute with Cyprus. A Turkish minister called the report a “huge disappointment” and a “broken mirror”.
“I have to admit that despite all our efforts, the section on political criteria in this year’s report is an especially huge disappointment for us,” Turkish European Affairs Minister Egemen Ba??? said in Istanbul, quoted by the daily Hurriyet. “The EU’s broken mirror is far away from reflecting the truth. The EU’s report is only a reflection of efforts to delay Turkey’s EU membership since the EU is in an economical and political crisis.”
Ba??? added that the report had been “a huge disappointment” for his country, while the Foreign Ministry called it “unbalanced.”
Ba??? blamed the Cypriot EU presidency, calling the country “a so-called peninsula state that Turkey does not recognise.” The envoy also said he had once likened the EU to a dietician whose health was getting worse day by day, but said he now saw that EU also was experiencing “mental problems” as well.
The 94-page progress report on Turkey paints a contrasting image of the relations between the Union and its largest-ever applicant. It says Turkey had frozen relations with the EU presidency, and wants to join the EU without recognising one of its members. When the country received candidate status, Cyprus was not yet an EU member.
Speaking to journalists after the presentation of the country reports, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said the EU and Turkey “had the keys” to unlock the situation.
Regarding the keys held by Turkey, he referred to the Ankara protocol (see background). The very next day that Turkey delivers on its commitments, the Commission will propose opening the eight chapters that remain frozen under consensual decision of the member states, he said.
But apparently Turkey is unhappy mostly with the Commission’s assessment of its compliance with the so-called Copenhagen political criteria for accession. Under the chapter “Democracy and the rule of law”, the country is criticised for heavy-handed use of law enforcement against the alleged Ergenekon network and the ensuing “Sledgehammer” trial against military commanders, accused of a coup attempt in 2003.
Another obviously painful criticism concerns the handling of the Kurdish issue. The Commission regrets that an opening initiated by the largest opposition party CHP in 2009 has not been followed up. The EU executive regrets the killing of civilians and the absence of transparent public inquiry into such events.
The Commission also criticises the country's work on a new constitution, naming as key challenges the issues of the separation of powers, state-society-religion relations and the Kurdish issue (citizenship, use of the mother-tongue, and decentralisation).
Opposition sees things differently
The harsh criticism by Turkey's ruling authorities contrasts with the position of the largest opposition party, the CHP (Republican Party of Turkey), which seeks to upgrade is associate status to full membership in the Party of European Socialists.
In a statement, the CHP stresses that it has been defending a comprehensive agenda of democratic reforms for Turkish people's rights and freedoms as well as regulatory reforms in line with EU membership.
“The EU Commission highlights significant deficits of the actual Turkish government and very rightly emphasises the irrational blockage by some EU member states of Turkey's EU accession process,” the CHP statement said. “In a time when Europe and the world have been facing immense challenges, the EU's policy on Turkey needs to be visionary and in convergence with European values and common interests.”
Kader Sevinç, CHP representative in Brussels and a member of the Party of European Socialists presidency, told EURACTIV that her party, together with PES, believes that it is crucial to launch a new EU-Turkey Agenda.
“In Turkey, the AKP government is no longer as committed to the goal of EU membership as it was in the past. We observe worrying trends in Turkey, jeopardising democratic accountability time and time again. These AKP policies have consequently made Turkey less qualified for EU accession,” Sevinç said.
Responding to the publication of the European Commission’s Annual Enlargement Package, UK Minister for Europe David Lidington said:
“I very much welcome Commissioner Füle’s launch of the Commission’s Annual Enlargement Package earlier today and the work of the Commission in preparing these reports. Over the coming days the UK government will be looking carefully at the detail of the Enlargement Strategy, individual Country Progress Reports and the Commission’s Recommendations.
These reports are of crucial importance: enlargement is one of the EU’s greatest achievements and remains a priority for the UK. The future of all the countries of the Western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland lies in the EU and we remain strong supporters of this future. […] I would encourage all countries to acknowledge and take early steps to address any areas identified in the Reports as needing further progress: we look forward to working together with them as they continue their journeys towards the European Union.”
The European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten (European People's Party, Netherlands), stated: "On the one hand, there is a progressive and reform-oriented Turkey where legislation regarding respect for women's rights and gender equality has improved and where progress has been made in the area of the judiciary and on the observance of International Human Rights Law. Moreover, progress has been made in legislative reforms with regard to public administration and there was further consolidation of civilian oversight over the security forces. Also positive steps were reported with regard to the new constitution and improvements were made with regard to cultural rights."
"On the other hand, however, the report also shows a different face of Turkey that seems to overshadow the reform-oriented, progressive face. The report also shows us a Turkey with increased violations of freedom of expression, where freedom of the media was further restricted in practice with widespread self-censorship and frequent website bans of disproportionate scope and duration. A Turkey with a culture of intolerance of minorities, where people professing their minority religion continue to be discriminated against. A Turkey where gender equality and combating violence against women, including honour killings and forced marriages, remain major challenges and where concerns persist over the rights of defence and lengthy pre-trial detention in cases like Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and the KCK trial."
"A Turkey where no progress has been made with regard to the Kurdish issue and that still has to fully implement the additional protocol and the Customs Union and a Turkey where the Parliament's ability to perform its key functions continues to be hampered by the persistent lack of dialogue and spirit of compromise among political parties."
Green MEP and chair of the European Parliament's Turkey delegation Hélène Flautre said: "It is deceptive to describe this report as a progress report on Turkey's EU accession process when there is no progress. It is a major source of regret that no new negotiating chapter has been opened with Turkey for over two years."
"The report itself addresses some of the key issues in Turkey, as regards freedom of expression and the media, judicial reform, the revision of the anti-terror law and the drafting of a new constitution. However, it is hard to understand the purpose of the exercise given the stalled nature of the accession process. With Turkey in the process of discussing a new constitution, the EU could hardly have picked a worse time to abdicate its influence on reforms in the country."
"At the same time as the Commission is calling for closer cooperation in areas like energy or foreign policy, EU member states are blocking negotiations on these chapters of the accession negotiations. Against the background of the situation in the neighbouring region - with Syria, Iran and the Arab Spring - the EU's policy towards Turkey is incoherent and ineffective."
Turkey’s accession talks are largely paralysed because of the Cypriot issue. So far, only one accession chapter (on science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey's failure to implement the 2005 Ankara protocol.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states (EU-10). This group includes the Republic of Cyprus, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed the so-called Ankara protocol, extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time it issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of a commitment to trade directly with the unrecognised northern part of the island.