Hahn: Turkey taking ‘huge strides’ away from EU

Johannes Hahn and Federica Mogherini on 17 April 2018. [@Huber62 Twitter]

Turkey is moving rapidly away from the path of European Union membership, the top EU official in charge of negotiations said on Tuesday (17 April), as Brussels delivered its harshest criticism yet of what it sees as Ankara’s shift towards authoritarianism.

While couched in diplomatic language, the European Commission’s annual report on Turkey’s progress towards membership blamed Ankara for a broad, collective and disproportionate crackdown after a failed 2016 coup attempt.

It warned that years of progress towards European Union standards in human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law were being reversed and that Turkey had seen a weakening of local democracy as presidential powers increased.

Turkey “continues to take huge strides away from the EU, in particular in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights,” European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who oversees EU membership bids, told a news conference after publishing the report.

“The Commission has repeatedly called on Turkey to reverse this negative trend as a matter of priority and makes very clear the recommendations on this in today’s report,” he said.

The report says Turkey’s saying recent spats with European states were “not conducive to good neighbourly relations”.

The Turkish foreign ministry hit back at the report, saying the Commission showed “that it was once again unwilling to understand the difficulties of the period we are passing through” and was “far from understanding the realities of Turkey”.

It complained that the Commission was “unable to be objective and balanced.”

The report focused particularly on rows including Ankara’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to prevent the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government from exploring for oil and gas.

“Tensions in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean were not conducive to good neighbourly relations and undermined regional stability and security,” the report said.

“Bilateral relations with several EU member states deteriorated, including at times offensive and unacceptable rhetoric.”

The report added: “Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations.”

The Turkish foreign ministry however warned the EU against giving a “carte blanche” to its member states such as Greece, saying such a stance “contradicts the EU’s own values”.

‘Membership unchanged target’

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini ruled out ending the current freeze on opening new “chapters” in Turkey’s EU membership process.

“Turkey is a candidate country, an important partner for the EU and a key actor, but it is not the time to open a new chapter in the negotiations,” she said.

The Turkish foreign ministry complained that “certain general allegations, accusations and comments targeting Turkey in the report are unacceptable”.

In response, Turkey said it was not being treated fairly or objectively by the EU, and added that despite the report its goal was still to join the bloc.

“Turkey isn’t the one moving away from the European Union. The side that is not objective and is, unfortunately, biased and unfair, is the EU,” Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said, adding that positive elements in the report did not mask the bloc’s unfairness towards Turkey.

“Despite this, we have not abandoned our European Union goal, and we have no intention to do so going forward,” he said after a cabinet meeting.

Negotiations began in 2005 and so far Turkey has opened just 16 out of 33 chapters.

Relations between Brussels and Ankara have been particularly tense in the wake of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown following a coup attempt in July 2016.

Erdoğan has drifted increasingly closer to Russia and Iran, especially concerning the conflict in Syria, despite being a NATO member.

Meanwhile, Bozdag said it was up to Greece to avoid “provocative” acts which he warned risked leading to “undesired incidents” in the Aegean Sea.

The report also said that Turkey should lift the state of emergency imposed after the failed coup “without delay.”

“The broad scale and collective nature, and the disproportionality of measures… such as widespread dismissals, arrests, and detentions, continue to raise serious concerns,” it said.

However at the same time as the report was issued, the National Security Council (MGK), after a meeting chaired by Erdoğan, said in a statement it had agreed to recommend the emergency should be extended for three more months. The latest extension was due to come to an end on Thursday.

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