There has been serious backsliding in the past year in freedom of expression and independence of judiciary, the EU said on November 9 in its latest Progress Report on Turkey. The highly critical report comes at a time of heightened tension between Ankara and Brussels and casts more doubts over Turkey’s EU aspirations.
There were media reports earlier this week suggesting that the EU may consider freezing accession talks with Ankara. EU foreign ministers will meet next week on November 14 to discuss a common stance in the face of the recent development. But, Ankara remains defiant, ignoring warnings from the EU. On November 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the bloc to make a final decision on accession talks.
Ankara is likely to dismiss the progress report as “biased” and will shrug off criticism. “The EU is threatening to freeze the accession process in the wake of the coup attempt, make up your mind, go ahead if you want to do that”, said Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on November 9 ahead of the report's release. The government is yet to announce its official stance on the report.
“Turkey is an EU candidate and that means they have to accept that we apply higher standards. If they don't want to accept it, they have to face the consequences,” European Commissioner Johannes Hahn told Reuters. “One cannot negotiate democracy, the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press.”
“Some member states say we should not only suspend but abandon the accession negotiations. Others are speaking about sanctions on Turkey,” Hahn told the news agency.
“There has been serious backsliding in the past year in the area of freedom of expression,” the progress report said, adding that selective and arbitrary application of the law, especially of the provisions on national security and the fight against terrorism, is having a negative impact on freedom of expression.
The report also voiced concern over cases against journalists, and closure of media outlets in the aftermath of the July attempted coup. “There has been backsliding in the past year, in particular with regard to the independence of the judiciary. The extensive changes to the structures and composition of high courts are of serious concern and are not in line with European standards,” it read.
Hundreds of prosecutors and judges have been suspended over their alleged links to Fethullah Gulen in the wake of the coup attempt. The government says such measures are necessary to cleanse the key state institutions of supporters of Gulen as they pose a threat to the country’s securities. Thousands of police officers and military personnel have also been dismissed after the botched putsch. Ankara says Gulen masterminded the coup attempt.
There has been backsliding in the area of public service and human resources management in particular in the aftermath of the coup attempt, according to the report. “The structural impact on the functioning of the civil service of the measures taken after the coup attempt remains to be assessed”.
The report also expressed concern over the debate around the reintroduction of the death penalty. “The EU recalls that the unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the EU acquis and a central international obligation to which Turkey has committed”, the report read.
On the Kurdish conflict, the EU reminded that it sees the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation but urged dialogue. “The settlement of the Kurdish issue through a political process is the only way forward; reconciliation and reconstruction are also becoming key issues for the authorities to address.”
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