“For Turkey’s EU membership, countries like France and Germany will eventually seek a referendum for public support, and Turkey has lost the support of young and liberal constituencies in the EU with its ban on social media. This [ban] has definitely not brought Turkey closer to the EU,” said a high-ranking EU source who wished to remain anonymous to Today’s Zaman.
Although the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) lifted its block on Twitter following a Constitutional Court ruling overturning the ban last week, the ban on YouTube continues. Access to Twitter was blocked on March 21 shortly after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to “root out Twitter” during a rally, only 10 days before local elections, while the ban on YouTube came a few days later, on March 27, after a leaked meeting between top security officials made its way onto the video-sharing website.
Commenting on Turkey’s local election outcome, in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) claimed victory with 43.26 percent of the total vote, the source said one of the positive outcomes of the local elections is that the results have increased Prime Minister Erdoğan’s confidence in proceeding with the Cyprus settlement issue.
“Turkey has played an incredibly constructive role in supporting the re-launch of a settlement on the island. We now have the best chance of succeeding since 2004. That would be the magic key to bring dynamism to Turkey’s EU accession process,” he added.
In a move that has raised hopes for a comprehensive solution for the island, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiadis and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Derviş Eroğlu met at the UN compound in Nicosia for one-and-a-half hours on Feb. 11. The Cyprus talks have been stalled since January 2012 due to postponements by Greek Cyprus for a variety of reasons.
During a two-day event organized by the European Journalism Center (EJC) in cooperation with the Directorate General for Enlargement of the European Commission in Brussels on April 7-8, it was stressed that the EU is embracing a “new approach” in its accession negotiations with candidate countries on Chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights and on Chapter 24 on justice, freedom and security, with a strong emphasis on not compromising on the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
Speaking at a session during the event, Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Center for European Policies Studies Erwan Fouere said putting the rule of law at the top of the agenda enables the EU to address problems more effectively in important areas, adding that the European Commission should be tougher in its assessments regarding the rule of law in candidate countries.
Regarding Turkey, Fouere said the only remedy in addressing the rule of law would be opening Chapters 23 and 24 for negotiations, urging the EU to lift its blocks on these chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations.
Hopes for fresh momentum in Turkish-EU relations had flourished with the opening of Chapter 22 on regional policy and the coordination of structural instruments in November of last year after a three-year pause in membership negotiations, along with a visa liberalization dialogue in parallel with a readmission agreement allowing the return to Turkey of illegal immigrants who migrate to Europe via Turkey signed in mid-December of last year.
Yet, the positive atmosphere was overshadowed by a series of developments in Turkey starting from Dec. 17, when a large-scale corruption scandal became public. The İstanbul and Ankara police staged dawn raids on Dec. 17 and detained over 50 people as part of a major investigation into claims of corruption and bribery. Among the detainees were bureaucrats, well-known businesspeople and the sons of three ministers. Allegations emerged that several ministers were also involved in bribery.
EU officials whom Today’s Zaman spoke to in Brussels agreed the Turkish government’s harsh response to the corruption allegations, the removal of thousands of public officials from their posts, the passing of controversial legislation on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) giving the government a tighter grip over the judiciary, the passing of amendments to the Internet law which have paved the way for greater control over Internet usage and invasion of privacy and Erdoğan’s polarizing narrative during local election campaigns have raised serious concerns over Turkey’s commitment to the EU.
“Reform-minded politicians and courageous people within the political system who would risk their careers to reveal corruption would be the first step to creating a domino effect in fighting against corruption in Turkey,” another EU official who deals with enlargement issues told Today’s Zaman.
Despite strained relations, there is still room for developing ties between Turkey and the EU. In exclusive remarks to Today’s Zaman, Jean-Christophe Filori, the head of the Turkey Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Enlargement, said the EU’s only choice with Turkey’s accession is to enhance engagement with Ankara.
According to Filori, there is still a possibility for cooperation between Turkey and the EU on a number of issues, especially in fundamental rights and freedom of expression, foreign policy issues and reviving relations through establishing dialogue via the exchange of experts as a part of visa liberalization.
Another area of cooperation, according to Filori, is extending the scope of the customs union agreement between Turkey and EU which was signed in 1995. “New generation free trade agreements [FTA] are more sophisticated, and we may extend the scope of the customs union to include public procurement and services,” said Filori.
Details of new developments in the customs union between Turkey and the EU will become clearer during the launch of a report on the customs union prepared by the World Bank on April 10 at the European Commission.