EU-Turkey relations at historical low point - European Parliament report

Turkey’s “continuous and growing distancing from European values and standards” has pushed the country’s relationship with the European Union “to a historical low point, having deteriorated to such an extent that it requires both parties to profoundly reassess the current framework of relations,” said the European Parliament (EP) in a draft report.

The draft of the EP’s 2019-2020 Commission Reports on Turkey, published on Wednesday, stated an aim of strengthening relations between Turkish and European societies, combatting prejudice, and “supporting Turkey’s independent civil society in whatever circumstances and framework of relations that the future may bring”.

“The accession process would still be the most powerful tool to exercise normative pressure on the Turkish government and the best framework to sustain the democratic and pro-European aspirations of Turkish society,” it said, stressing that “a purely transactional relationship will hardly contribute to the advancement of Turkey towards a more democratic model”.

The EP is deeply worried about the “disregard by the Turkish judiciary of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings and the increasing non-compliance of lower courts with the judgments of the Constitutional Court,” it added.

According to the report, despite previous calls by the EP for the formal suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey, the European Council has offered the country a “renewed and broad positive agenda,” to once again try and restore the relations with Europe.

The report mentioned Turkey’s lack of commitment to implementing EU reforms, and expressed deep concern over the backslide of the rule of law and fundamental rights, Turkey’s recent regressive institutional reforms, and the country’s confrontational foreign policy as well as a growing anti-EU narrative.

“No incentive that the EU could offer can ever replace the much-needed political will to build a mature democracy,” it said, adding that the situation in Turkey had “far from improving, deteriorated even further.” The EP “firmly” insisted on the formal suspension of negotiations as suggested in last year’s report, so both sides could assess whether the current framework was functioning, or “explore possible new models for future relations”.

The EP “regrets the current lack of understanding between the EU and Turkey,” the report said, “but reaffirms its firm conviction that Turkey is a strategic neighbour and ally with which the EU wishes to have the best possible relations”.

The impact of the post-coup state of emergency between 2016 and 2018 continues to be felt on fundamental rights and democracy, according to the report, and the EP “deeply regrets that this repressive form of rule has now become a deliberate, relentless, systematic state policy”.

Such repression extends to “any critical activities,” the report said, citing Kurdish activism and the Gezi protests of 2013, and adding that Turkey’s anti-terror laws were both overly broad, and being abused to implement such policies.

The EP condemned the pressure placed on judges, prosecutors, lawyers and bar associations, while expressing serious concern over arbitrary curtailing of freedom of expression, press freedom and access to information.

The report condemned violence by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been on the EU’s terror list for 18 years, while also condemning the continued detention of Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HPD), and the “specific and continuous” targeting of the party as opposition parties are pressured, undermining “the proper functioning of a democratic system”.

EP called on Turkey “to release all imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, academics and others” detained on “unsubstantiated charges,” and mentioned philanthropist Osman Kavala by name, as the prominent civil society figure remains behind bars despite an ECHR ruling and his acquittal of several charges against him.

There is a vibrant, plural, engaged and heterogeneous civil society in Turkey still, in spite of the massive political crackdown, and it represents one of the few remaining checks on the Turkish government, the report said.