FT: EU sidelines critical Turkey report as it seeks migration deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media during a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Erdogan said Tuesday his country has intelligence suggesting that militants “originating” from Syria were planning to carry out attacks in Turkey but said no terrorist group is being ruled out in the investigation into the weekend’s deadly blasts at a peace rally.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)©AP

Brussels has privately signalled that it will shunt publication of a highly critical report on Turkey’s free speech record until after its election in November, as the EU scrambles to keep Ankara on-board with a plan to stem migration.

The move has been hotly debated for weeks because a delay appears to favour the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, whose authoritarian tendencies were a deep concern for the EU until the migration crisis blew up.

With the active support of Germany, the commission has since sought to overcome longstanding political obstacles in EU-Turkey ties — including on human rights — and bring the migrant exodus to Europe under control.

While a Turkey-EU “action plan” is in principle agreed, Ankara’s co-operation comes at a price: a €3bn funding package to help it cope with 2m Syrian refugees, tangible progress on stalled EU membership talks, and visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens.

The deal’s fragility was underlined when on Friday morning Feridun Sinirlioglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, warned EU officials that a summit of EU leaders had not met its side of the bargain, according to people familiar with the talks.

The provisional accord was salvaged during a conversation with Frans Timmermans, the commission vice-president, who promised to start unfreezing some chapters of EU membership negotiations and tangible advances on financing.

According to one diplomat, Ankara was also reassured that the contentious “progress report” on its membership bid — which contains critical sections on free speech and has already been delayed by a week — had yet not begun the commission’s internal approval process and would take time.

It effectively means it will emerge after the November 1 parliamentary election, as publication is politically unrealistic in the week before the November vote.

One EU ambassador quipped that it had been delayed “at the whim of the Sultan” — Mr Erdogan. “This is not healthy,” he said.

Although the chances of its emerging next week are negligible, Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, has yet to take a final decision. A commission spokesperson said Mr Juncker would judge when the moment was best to “get the full media and public attention that these reports merit”.

Delayed publication was one of Ankara’s demands in the migration negotiations.

Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, last month pushed EU officials to defer publication.

A visit to Turkey by Angela Merkel tomorrow will highlight Europe’s desire to engage Mr Erdogan on migration, even amid a fraught election campaign that has seen increasing intimidation of media.

Ms Merkel asked that her visit be to Istanbul rather than Ankara, in part to avoid an awkward photo op with Mr Erdogan at his 1,100-room presidential palace. It is yet to be decided whether the two leaders will hold a joint press conference.

She has been more forthcoming on policy. Ms Merkel has backed a multi-billion-euro refugee aid package to Turkey. She has softened Berlin’s objections to Turkey’s inclusion on a “safe list” of countries, which means Turkish asylum seekers are be more easily rejected in Europe, even as violence has flared up with Kurdish separatists in Turkey’s south east.

The chancellor’s visit at such a sensitive political moment underlines her view of Turkey’s crucial role in tackling the migration crisis. Ankara will seek reassurance from her that the EU has the political will to deliver money, revived membership talks and visa rights to Turkey — and that Berlin will step up bilateral support if Europe proves to be divided.

“Turkey is not a country that you just remember in a crisis,” Mr Sinirlioglu said on Friday.

“It won’t be enough to give us worthless sums of money like in the past. It will have to be an amount that shows the EU’s hand is under the rock [so it is feels the weight of responsibility]”.

Full story here.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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