Brussels tells Turkey: Halt slide to authoritarianism, then we’ll talk about EU accession

Brussels tells Turkey: Halt slide to authoritarianism, then we’ll talk about EU accession
Tense exchanges: EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn (right) told Turkey's Europe minister Omer Celik (left) and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that accession would not progress unless Turkey removed itself from the road to authoritarianism. / European Commission.
By bne IntelliNews July 26, 2017

Turkish ministers making their case for EU accession in Brussels were told by the EU on July 26 that they cannot expect progress until Ankara restores human rights, seen by the bloc as having deteriorated to a shocking degree under the country’s year-long and ongoing state of emergency.

Following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik, Johannes Hahn, the EU's membership and enlargement commissioner, stated at a press conference in Brussels that Ankara must halt its trend towards authoritarian rule before any progress can be made on facilitating Turkey's EU entry bid.

His remarks came just hours after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Germany, Nato, Washington and Israel in a speech to his party in which he accused foreign agents of attempting to “break my country up into pieces” and added that “God willing” Turkey would soon receive S-400 advanced missile defence batteries it plans to purchase from Russia.

Some analysts speculated that the Erdogan's speech might signal that Ankara is accelerating its political realignment away from the West and towards Moscow, but with Germany having toughened its approach to the Turks in the past week – German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble went so far on July 21 as to state that Turkey’s unwillingness to meet basic consular standards when it arrests Germans and other foreigners reminded him “of how it used to be in the GDR [the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was known]” – Brussels showed no sign of easing up on Turkey.

Accession process not frozen

Hahn and other EU officials did underline that talks on Turkey’s EU accession were not being suspended – despite a demand for that move from the European parliament – but they also made the point that no new chapters for discussion could be added to the accession agenda in the circumstances.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini rammed home the criticism levelled at Turkey, referring to a "worrying pattern of imprisonment of a large number of members of the democratic [Turkish] opposition, journalists and human rights defenders".

She added: "The rule of law, the right to a fair trial, due process, the freedom of expression and assembly, good neighbourly relations are key principles that Turkey has committed to, not only as a candidate country but also as a member of the Council of Europe."

Celik recognised that there were "disagreements" but insisted that the accession procedure's chapters on Turkey's judiciary, security and fundamental rights should be opened for talks.

Cavusoglu told the EU it had been misled over arrests and trials in Turkey, claiming for instance that "pseudo-journalists" had helped in "terrorist activities".

People, including journalists and politicians who Ankara believed had helped to stage the coup attempt foiled in July last year, had to face trial and sentencing, he said.

EU sticks to its guns

But the EU representatives stuck to their guns. "Human rights, the rule of law, democracy, fundamental freedoms – including media freedom – are all basic imperative requirements for any progress towards the European Union," reiterated Hahn.

The economic relationship between Germany and Turkey is of massive importance to both countries – Germany is the biggest buyer of Turkish exports, more than 6,000 German companies operate in Turkey and German investments in Turkey during 2002-2015 amounted to nearly $8.5bn, while in 2015, 15.4% of foreign arrivals in Turkey were Germans – but Berlin has clearly decided it can no longer refrain from pursuing tougher policies against Ankara given the extent of the crackdown that Erdogan has carried out since the failed coup of July 2016.

Around 50,000 people have been arrested, while 120,000, including judges and academics, have been dismissed from state institutions. The purge has also led to the seizure of around 965 companies with assets of roughly TRY 41bn ($11.3bn). 

The Istanbul trial of 17 journalists accused by Turkish prosecutors of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods” on behalf of the Gulenist movement Ankara says was behind the attempt to overthrow the government got under way on July 24. The trial of reporters, editors, columnists and cartoonists from the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper has become a symbol of the destruction of press freedom in Turkey.

Turkey’s state of emergency was extended by another three months on July 18.