The European Union strongly criticized the way the Turkish government handled allegations of corruption in December 2013, expressing concerns about the independence of the judiciary and increased pressure on the media.
In its annual progress report disclosed on Wednesday, the EU said “the response of the government following allegations of corruption in December 2013 has given rise to serious concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.”
“The widespread reassignments and dismissals of police officers, judges and prosecutors, despite the government’s claim that these were not linked to the anti-corruption case, have impacted on the effective functioning of the relevant institutions, and raise questions as to the way procedures were used to formalise these,” the report added.
The EU underlined that “it is crucial that the investigations into corruption allegations are properly conducted in full transparency and the operational capabilities of the judiciary and the police are assured.”
The report also addressed the growing woes related to press freedom in Turkey, a country that was described as “a strategic partner for the EU,” recalling government attempts to ban access to social media sites including YouTube and Twitter that were later overturned by the Constitutional Court.
It said pressure on the press in Turkey leads to a widespread self-censorship, reflecting a restrictive approach to freedom of expression. It also said the exercise of freedom of assembly is also restricted.
“Turkish legislation and its implementation concerning the right to assembly and intervention by law enforcement officers will need to be brought in line with European standards,” the report recommended.
The EU repeated its earlier suggestion of engaging in a dialogue across the political spectrum and society, stressing that this should be a priority for Turkey.
It also emphasized the importance of reinvigorating the rule of law reform efforts, paying particular attention to the respect of fundamental rights in law and in practice.
Stressing that the EU should remain an important anchor for Turkey’s economic and political reforms, the report stated that it is in the interests of both Turkey and the EU that the opening benchmarks for opening talks on Chapter 23, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and Chapter 24, on justice, freedom and security are defined as soon as possible, leading to the opening of negotiations on these two chapters.
“Turkey can accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of the benchmarks, meeting the requirements of the negotiating framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU. This could provide a significant boost to the negotiation process,” it explained.
The EU pointed out that there have been very serious developments in the region, in particular in Syria and Iraq, and said that makes cooperation on foreign policy issues even more crucial.
“Turkey’s strategic location also underlines the importance of further cooperation in the areas of migration policy and energy security. The value of such cooperation is even clearer in light of the considerable challenges posed by recent developments in our joint neighbourhood, including the Ukraine crisis,” the report highlighted.
It said “active and credible accession negotiations provide the most suitable framework for exploiting the full potential of EU-Turkey relations,” ruling out any alternative procedures with Turkey. It described the accession process as an important tool to promote “EU-related reforms” as well as providing “an important basis for intensifying dialogue on foreign policy and security issues and for strengthening economic competitiveness and trade opportunities.”
“It [accession talks] also helps increase cooperation in the field of energy and on justice and home affairs, including visa/migration policy/readmission,” the EU added.
The EU emphasized that “accession negotiations need to regain momentum, respecting the EU’s commitments and the established conditionality.”