This article was published in Arab News on June 2, 2019.
EU sheds light on Turkey’s accession challenges
The European Commission last week issued its annual report on Turkey. Almost all negative observations contained in previous reports were repeated in the present one, while new ones were added and the tone of the criticism was raised. The international media characterized the report as the most critical since the beginning of accession negotiations in 2005.
The report started, as usual, with positive notes underlining that Turkey remains a key partner for the EU, and it continued with observations on almost every aspect of Turkey’s EU accession process. Despite pitiless criticisms, it tries to keep the channels of communications open.
The EU has never been generous in praising Turkey’s achievements. Compared to other candidate countries, it has always been more inclined to emphasize the negative aspects of the situation in Turkey. Since 2006 — and more so since 2011 — the tone of the critical, sometimes harsh, observations has risen and the latest report was the most critical of all.
In the past, these documents were titled “Progress Report on Turkey.” The title has now become “Turkey Report.” Cynical analysts in Ankara referred to it as a “Regression Report on Turkey.” The EU Commission emphasized Turkey’s back-sliding, especially in the fields of fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the economy.
The report criticizes the presidential decree that introduced a state of emergency in the aftermath of the attempted coup in June 2016. The decree limited fundamental rights and freedoms, allowing the dismissal of public servants — including judges — prolonged detentions, restrictions to the freedom of movement and public gatherings, and increased the power of the government-appointed provincial governors. This was in stark contrast to the policies that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) adopted in its early years in power. In a draft law to reorganize local administrations, it was trying to devolve more competences to the elected mayors, to the detriment of the appointed governors.
The EU emphasized Turkey’s back-sliding, especially in the fields of fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the economy.
Unsurprisingly, the state of emergency limited several civil and political rights as well as defense rights. It expanded the police and prosecutors’ powers for investigations and prosecutions. More than 152,000 civil servants, including academics, teachers and public officials, were dismissed. To add insult to injury, the Constitutional Court ruled that it does not have a mandate to review the legality of presidential decrees. Therefore, the claimants exhausted the internal recourse procedures and became entitled to bring their complaints before the European Court of Human Rights. As a result, Turks became the highest number of claimants who applied to this court.
When the last extension of the presidential decree expired, the Turkish Parliament, instead of putting an end to the state of emergency, passed a law retaining the main components of the emergency rule, thus making the restrictions more permanent.
The European Commission report criticizes the absence of a separation of powers and the lack of independence of the judiciary. The Higher Electoral Board’s decision to re-run the local elections in Istanbul is noted as a “source of serious concern regarding the respect of legality and integrity of the electoral process.” The report also complains about the absence of legal guarantees for the independence of the judiciary from the executive and the independence of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors.
Turkish authorities consistently state that they are committed to the EU accession process. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, acknowledged these statements but said that little is being done to confirm the claims.
The report repeats the EU decision of 2018 that the accession process had come to a standstill and that, therefore, there was no question of opening a new negotiation chapter or closing temporarily or permanently any chapter that had been opened in the past.
The deterioration of the economic situation that is bitterly felt by Turkish citizens is also emphasized by the report.
The only clear-cut praise for Turkey is its performance in the field of refugees.
Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci, who is a knowledgeable EU expert, made a balanced statement, saying: “Turkey will of course take note of the consistent and reasonable criticisms, but it rejects unjust and disproportionate criticisms.” He also noted that the report’s biggest discrepancy was that “the EU did not make any reference to its own responsibility and commitments.”
The most substantive content in Turkey’s reaction to the report has been Kaymakci’s call for updating the customs union that Ankara signed in 1995.
The educated observers in Turkey regard the yearly EU reports as the most accurate depiction of the country’s situation and call it Turkey’s tomography, where one can see both diseases and correctly functioning organs. This report provided another such view.