Along with some encouragement, Turkey gets a grilling from the EU in its annual progress report, particularly over the government’s response to the Gezi protests
The European Union released its progress report on Turkey Oct. 16, with anti-government Gezi protests in June putting a mark on crucial parts of the document, including democracy and the rule of law, financial services and the media.
The report also highlights a number of important steps taken by Turkey over the past 12 months, notably the adoption of the fourth judicial reform package and the peace process to end militancy and violence in the southeast of the country.
The report, however, said the political climate in Turkey continued to be marked by polarization. “This translated into an understanding of democracy as relying exclusively on a parliamentary majority, rather than a participative process in which all voices are heard, and finally in an uncompromising stance in the face of dissent and a failure to protect fundamental rights and freedoms. This was exemplified in late May and early June, when police used excessive force in response to a major wave of protests,” the European Commission said in the report.
“The excessive use of force by police and the overall absence of dialogue during the protests in May/June have raised serious concerns,” it added. “This underlines the urgent need for further reforms and the promotion of dialogue across the political spectrum, and in society more broadly, as well as for respect of fundamental rights in practice.”
The commission said Turkey had launched a number of investigations into police conduct during the protests, but stressed that “these should be followed through in accordance with European standards and those responsible [should be] brought to account.”
It urged Turkey to push ahead with plans to set up a monitoring mechanism to ensure the independent supervision of police conduct.
In the financial spectrum, it stated with concern that the new Capital Markets Board had launched a large-scale investigation concerning foreign investors’ transactions at the stock exchange during the Gezi incidents, with a view to detecting market manipulations.
The report also criticized government attacks on media freedom. “The Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK) fined a number of television stations for providing live coverage of the so-called Gezi Park protests on the basis of incitement to violence,” it said.
‘Mainstream media hardly reported on Gezi’
“In particular, the mainstream media hardly reported on the Gezi Park protests in early June. Columnists and journalists were fired or forced to resign after criticizing the government. As a result, freedom of the media remained restricted in practice,” it said, while also mentioning pressure on social media. “On several occasions, high-level officials criticized social media as a threat to society. A number of citizens were put in police custody, albeit subsequently released, for posting Twitter messages about the Gezi Park protests.”
The report also referred to the protests in its section on freedom of assembly. “Freedom of assembly was not respected on a number of occasions, including during the Gezi Park events. The Turkish authorities failed in these instances to protect, or to be seen to wish to protect, the rights and freedoms of others according to European standards,” it stated.
Emphasis on the president
Meanwhile, the report also touched on the role of the president, praising Abdullah Gül for his “conciliatory” tone. “The president [Abdullah Gül] maintained his conciliatory role across Turkey’s political spectrum and society, warning against polarization, including during the demonstrations in May and June, when he defended the right to peaceful assembly and dissent,” it said.
On the fourth judicial reform package, the report said it provided judicial remedies for a number of issues on which Turkey had been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), but said further efforts were needed. “Further efforts are needed to consolidate the independence, impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary, including the criminal justice system,” it said.
The report said Turkey had still not addressed criticisms on legislation on the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), including concerns over the role on the board for the justice minister and the ministry’s undersecretary.
“In any constitutional reform, Turkey needs to consolidate the achievements of the 2010 constitutional amendments, in particular that more than half of the members of the council are judges chosen by their peers from all levels of the judiciary, and address the shortcomings such as the role given to the minister of justice and to the undersecretary of the ministry,” it added.
The commission also criticized Ankara for a persistent “lack of compromise” in making reforms. “Work on political reforms and Parliament’s ability to perform its key functions of law-making and oversight of the executive continued to be hampered by a persistent lack of dialogue and spirit of compromise among political parties,” it said.
Praise for peace process
With regard to the ongoing Kurdish peace process, the report praised the government. “The government’s initiative for a peace process was a turning point and met strong engagement from Kurdish actors. The Kurdish issue and options for a solution were widely discussed, along with the hope that it would facilitate economic and social development in the southeast,” it stated.
On Cyprus, the report said Turkey had expressed support for a resumption of talks aimed at achieving a comprehensive solution to the issue under the offices of the United Nations. “However, Turkey has still not complied with its obligation of full non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and has yet to remove all obstacles to the free movement of goods,” it said.
Overall, the European Commission urged EU states to confirm their willingness to give new impetus to ties with Turkey by resuming talks, and added that issues in the report underlined the importance for the bloc to enhance its engagement with Turkey on fundamental rights.
“It is in the interest of both Turkey and the EU that the opening benchmarks for chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) are agreed upon and communicated to Turkey as soon as possible with a view to enabling the opening of negotiations under these two chapters. This would significantly contribute to ensuring that the EU remains the benchmark for reforms in Turkey,” the report said.
Time to put accession process on track: Füle
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said Oct.16 the “time has come” to put Turkey’s accession process on track, in line with the understanding in the progress report.
Füle said the protests in May and June and the excessive use of force by police along with the overall absence of dialogue had raised serious concerns.
“I have heard voices who said that the right response of the EU to events in Gezi Park should be for the Union to disengage. But the message of the package adopted today is different: the EU needs to step up its engagement and continue to support Turkey and Turkish citizens in fulfilling their legitimate expectations of further reforms that can strengthen freedom of expression, freedom of media and freedom of assembly,” he told the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“The full potential of our relationship with Turkey is best fulfilled within an active and credible accession process where the EU remains the benchmark for reforms,” he said, adding that both sides shared many issue of mutual interest such as the signature of the EU-Turkey visa admission agreement and the simultaneous launch of the visa liberalization process that would be a “win-win situation” for both sides.