Events over the past three months have cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to European values and standards, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle has said, while praising the “renewed momentum” in bilateral ties.
The commissioner was speaking on April 10 during the 74th EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee at the European Parliament in Brussels, where EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also participated.
“As commissioner for enlargement, I must admit that events over the past three months have cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to European values and standards. Let me express the sincere hope that the next three months will prove me wrong; that Turkey will fully re-engage in reforms which will bring your country closer to the European Union; that constructive cooperation will allow us to use the immense potential of our relations to the full,” Füle said.
The commissioner criticized new legislation that transferred significant powers over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to the Justice Ministry. The bill has been criticized for increasing the government’s power over the justice system and is seen as part of the government’s efforts to cover up a corruption and graft probe launched on Dec. 17, 2013, described by the government as a “plot orchestrated by the Fethullah Gülen community.”
“This development reverses a previous reform elaborated in consultation with the European Union and the Council of Europe. The changes raise serious concerns over the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and over the separation of powers in Turkey,” he said.
EU minister warns of ‘double standards’
Minister Çavuşoğlu said Turkey is ready to compare the new HSYK legislation to “best practices” in Europe, adding that he won’t accept that “ministers in Europe don’t abuse their power but in Turkey they can,” warning the EU against applying “double standards.”
Commissioner Füle also slammed the “massive transfers of police officers, judges and prosecutors’ during the graft probe.”
“It constitutes a risk to the proper conduct of investigations into alleged corruption. Turkey must take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed in a transparent and impartial manner,” he said. “The Commission is, and has always been, a strong promoter of Turkey’s European Union integration process. What is expected from true friends is to speak true words. This brings the process forward.”
The new Internet law, which has empowered the head of the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) with the authority to block access to web pages within four hours, was also criticized by Füle.
“In the area of freedom of expression, I regret that the new law on the Internet gives arbitrary power to the TİB. The lack of sufficient protection or legal safeguards of the affected parties is also worrying.
The recent ban on social media proves that these concerns are justified. Let me reiterate that the right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas in the public interest without disproportionate interference by public authority. Any limitations should be proportionate as outlined by the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.
For his part, Çavuşoğlu said the restriction of social media in Turkey does not aim the freedom of expression. “We can ask the question ‘How could we find the balance between preserving the freedom of expression and protection of privacy of private life?’ In this context, consider the balances in the European Convention on Human Rights, U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and recommendations given by the European Council,” Çavuşoğlu added.
Meanwhile, Füle praised the opening of EU Accession Chapter 22 on Regional Policy, as well as significant developments in the area of justice and home affairs, including a visa liberalization dialogue, cooperation on tackling irregular migration, and the signing of the readmission agreement last year.