MEPs call on EU to pressure Turkey through dialogue


Developments in Turkey over the past year are a cause of concern and put into doubt the country's capacity to fulfill its EU membership obligations, the foreign affairs comittee of the European Parliament concluded yesterday (3 March) in its resolution on the progress of the largest EU candidate country.

The government of Turkey, which has been negotiating for EU accession since 2005, has taken a number of steps that are “not in line with the Copenhagen criteria”, said Ria Oomen Ruijten, the EU Parliament’s rapporteur on the country after yesterday's vote.

The Dutch MEP said there was “no more independence of the judiciary” in Turkey since “the minister of justice can now give orders” to judges and prosecutors. 

"We urge Turkey to get rid of it … separation of powers is the most important tool,” Oomen Ruijten stressed.

In January, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an suspended a number of high-profile prosecutors and police officers after a corruption inquiry targeting government circles and business close to the Turkish power was launched. Erdo?an called it an attempted “judicial coup” meant to undermine him ahead of elections.

>> Read: Turkey’s Erdo?an visits Brussels amid corruption scandal

The Parliament committee called on the EU Council, representing the member states, to “make efforts towards opening negotiations on chapters 23 and 24,” which pertain to justice and fundamental rights.

The reinforcement of democracy and the rule of law should be “supported” by the European Union through “close dialogue and cooperation”, MEPs said, “so that the negotiations can continue to provide Turkey with a clear reference and credible benchmarks.”

The rapporteur stressed the importance of keeping Turkey close “more than ever to reinstall peace and stability in the region,” referring to the potentially explosive situation in Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood.

“Turkey is an absolutely important partner for the EU,” Oomen Ruijten added, explaining that it was of utmost importance for Ankara to make the necessary constitutional reforms.

The parliament is also very much concerned with the attacks on freedom of expression in the country, in particular the so-called “internet laws, which introduce excessive controls and monitoring of internet access,” according to a Parliament statement. The law is deemed contrary to EU legislation.

The EU lawmakers also reminded the Turkish government that it needed “to deal with public protests in a more restrained way,” a clear reference to last summer’s violent crackdown on the Taksim square protesters.

Cyprus talks

The EU Parliament’s resolution welcomed the re-launching of reunification talks between the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus.

The talks resumed last month and both sides said in a joint statement that “substantive discussions” had taken place.

Cyprus, an EU member state since 2004, has been divided into the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied north since 1974. Turkey has not recognised the republic.

Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) said in a statement: "The investigations into corruption within the government and the subsequent reactions, which started at the end of last year, have triggered a chaos that will be increasingly difficult to solve. The crisis in Turkey destabilises the core of the rule of law and is only getting worse. The separation of powers, freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary are under great pressure."

A NATO member with hopes of EU membership, Turkey is locked in a long power struggle between the AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam, and conservative, nationalist secularists, whose bastions remain the military and judiciary.

Known as 'Kemalists', the Turkish military are considered guardians of Kemal Atatürk's secular legacy. After World War I, Atatürk sought to transform the ruins of the Ottoman empire into a democratic, secular nation state. In past decades, the military has toppled several governments. 

In 2008 the ruling AKP curtailed the army's power as part of what was presented as efforts to prepare the country for EU accession. In response, the military launched an unsuccessful bid to ban the AKP. 

A wave of arrests of suspected members of 'Ergenekon', a mysterious organisation close to the secularist military establishment, brought new tension to Turkey. In the recent past, the EU has taken the side of AKP against those accused of "being members of the Ergenekon criminal organisation".

A sit-in against plans to demolish a park in Istanbul sparked the fiercest anti-AKP demonstration in recent years in Turkey, and the heavy-handed reaction by the authorities raised concerns in the West.

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