The Council of Europe has voted to reopen its monitoring procedure against Turkey. The decision deals another potentially fatal blow to Ankara’s EU membership hopes, as exiting the process was made a precondition of negotiations back in 2004.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted earlier today (25 April) in favour of restarting its monitoring of Turkey’s respect for fundamental freedoms, which concluded in 2004. 113 of the assembly’s lawmakers voted in favour, 45 against and 12 abstained.
Ingebjørg Godskesen and Marianne Mikko’s report titled The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey called on Ankara to lift its state of emergency and release the many politicians and journalists arrested in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016.
The report also proposed for monitoring to be reopened as a measure to improve cooperation between the Strasbourg institution and the Turkish authorities. The text expressed serious concerns about the constitutional amendments that passed in Turkey’s 16 April referendum.
While the report acknowledges the difficulties posed in the aftermath of the coup attempt and by the ongoing terrorist threats, it also criticises Turkey for “a serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions”.
Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said last week that the proposal to downgrade Turkey was “a political operation”. He added that “it is an operation by groups who are uneasy about seeing Turkey start to stand on its own two feet”.
After today’s vote, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it “strongly condemns this unjust decision of PACE taken with political motives in contravention to the established procedures”.
The ministry is headed by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who, ironically, was PACE president between 2010 and 2012.
The ministry also warned that the decision, which “will serve terror organisations”, “leaves no choice to Turkey but to reconsider its relations with PACE”. Turkey was one of the first countries to join the Council of Europe when it was established in 1949.
Amnesty International said that the Council decision “sends a clear and powerful message that Turkey must end its crackdown on human rights”.
The human rights group added that it “has made it clear to the authorities that human rights cannot be trampled underfoot without scrutiny and, ultimately, consequences”.
In 2004, the European Union informed Ankara that Turkey would have to exit the monitoring process, which had been in place since 1996, in order for it to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, the set of rules that decide if a country is eligible to join the EU.
The criteria state that “membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities”. With the Council of Europe’s monitoring restarted, that status now appears in jeopardy.
In mid-2004, monitoring was lifted and in December of the same year, the EU agreed to start full membership negotiations. Talks began in October 2005 and have made glacial progress ever since.
Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn yesterday (24 April) urged the member states to reconsider what kind of relationship the EU should have with Turkey, ahead of a foreign ministers meeting in Malta on Friday (28 April).