A Close Look to EU’s 2014 Progress Report for Turkey: Another Winter Coming for EU-Turkey Relations?

A Close Look to EU’s 2014 Progress Report for Turkey:
Another Winter Coming for EU-Turkey Relations?

It was not long ago when the new European Union (EU) chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, said there would be no new EU countries during his five-year term[i]. While the need for a break from enlargement (widening) is argued to be necessary for promoting further cooperation (deepening) among 28 EU member countries, Turkish government announced its new EU strategy to secure accession to the EU. Determination in the political reform process, continuity in socio-economic transformation, and effectiveness in communication are mentioned as the main pillars of Turkey’s new EU strategy.[ii] The strategy will be operational with the adoption of National Action Plan for EU Accession in November.

The adoption of a new EU strategy may be regarded as Turkey’s continuous commitment to EU accession especially after the then Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan declared 2014 to be the ‘Year of the European Union.[iii]’ Time will show whether 2014 would be ‘the year of the EU’ but the European Commission’s 2014 progress report for Turkey raises serious concerns about various political issues while 20 issue areas were reported to have ‘no progress’. For instance, the report underlines the lack of progress in improving parliamentary oversight of the executive and public expenditure, most notably the military expenditure; addressing deficiencies in rules governing the financing of political parties and election campaigns and the scope of immunity for MPs; increasing civilian oversight of the intelligence service; eliminating legislations that limit freedom of expression, (including the Internet bans), and the effective exercise of press freedom; improving the legal system in the area of public procurement and health and safety at work; and normalizing bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. The report also emphasizes the overall stagnation in the constitutional reform process. The Commission supports revival of the constitutional reforms which would constitute ‘the most credible avenue for advancing further democratization of Turkey and providing for the separation of powers and adequate checks and balances. In this vein, the ‘lack of readiness on the part of the government and opposition parties to work towards consensus on key reforms’ is mentioned with serious concern since it damages the functioning of the parliament and polarizes the society.

Another area of concern is the presidential elections that took place in August 2014. The Commission states that the state resources were misused to the benefit of the Prime Minister. Numerous allegations of fraud and discrimination are also highlighted as matters of serious concern. Similar concerns were stated for the blanket bans on YouTube and Twitter (these were later lifted by the Constitutional Court), the number of journalists in prisons and the delayed recognition of Cem Houses. In the case of promotion of minority rights, the Commission also demands the Turkish authorities to introduce a legal framework for the provision of public services in Kurdish. While the peaceful celebration of Kurdish Newroz and pride parades are welcomed, the excessive use of force by the police on numerous occasions such as ‘protests relating to Gezi events, numerous Kurdish related gatherings in the south-east, demonstrations at Taksim Square in Istanbul and workers’ rally following the Soma mine disaster’ are mentioned as ‘frequent practice’ restricting the freedom of assembly in the country.

The Commission also criticizes the ‘frequent and hasty changes’ to the justice system, which ‘raised serious concerns regarding the judicial independence and impartiality, separation of powers and rule of law’. The reassignments of judges, prosecutors and police servicemen working on high-profile anti-corruption cases during the December 2013 corruption allegations increase the urgency of a new judicial reform strategy. In this context, the Commission mentions that adoption of an anti-corruption strategy and action plan after 2014 would contribute to the promotion of rule of law in the country. Yet, it also reminds Turkish authorities that involvement of civil society is of key importance in fighting corruption, which was mostly lacking during in implementation of the 2010-14 anti-corruption strategy.

However, the progress report also underlines positive developments including Turkey’s efforts in maintaining its recent economic performance and increasing dialogue environment for a solution to the Kurdish question. The progress in the area of justice, freedom and security is carefully noted. Turkey adopted a Law on Foreigners and International Protection and established the General Directorate for Migration Management although reforms concerning the border security are delayed. The EU praises Turkey’s humanitarian efforts in supporting an increasing influx of refugees from Syria as well as from Iraq. The Commission reports that Turkey granted temporary protection to more than 1 million Syrian refugees. In this regard, the signature and entry into force of the EU–Turkey readmission agreement and the launch of the visa liberalisation dialogue are regarded as positive developments. Last but not least, the Commission emphasizes the progress in the area of social policy and employment where the rate of unregistered employment has been decreasing.

Volkan Bozkır, Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator, evaluated the EU’s 2014 report for Turkey as “balanced and objective in general and said that Turkey would benefit from the report for its progress in the EU accession and reform process.” [iv] The positive note of Bozkır is welcomed by Stefan Fule, EU Enlargement Commissioner. Fule said despite concerns over various shortfalls during the past year EU should expand its negotiations with Turkey.[v] In its enlargement strategy, the Commission underlines that ‘accession negotiations should regain momentum, respecting the EU’s commitments and the established conditionality’. Concerning the political climate in Turkey the EU’s enhanced engagement with Turkey especially on rule of law issues is needed more than ever.  It is in this context that the Commission recommends opening benchmarks for chapters 23 – Judiciary ad Fundamental Rights, and 24- Justice, Freedom and Security, which would be in the interest of both Turkey and the EU. [vi]

Overall, the 2014 EU progress report strongly underlines necessity of further alignment of Turkish legislation with the EU acquis and raises serious concerns with regard to fundamental freedoms and rule of law in the country. Experts say this is one of the worst reports since the first regular report was published for Turkey in 1998.[vii] By looking at the EU progress report one can tell that Turkey’s accession will not be on the agenda of the EU in the coming future. Yet, over the next few years several other factors are deemed to be shaping EU-Turkey relations such as counter-terrorism and humanitarian issues (due to Syria and Iraq), domestic affairs issues (visa liberalization and irregular migrations); and the necessary revamping of the Customs Union (including the implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the EU and the U.S.).[viii] The agenda prioritizing the visa liberalization and the Custom Union may open up debates on different scenarios, and their implications, of the potential further integration of Turkey with the EU.

***

Diğdem Soyaltın, Editor, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Soyaltın D. (November, 2014),  “A Close Look to EU’s 2014 Progress Report for Turkey: Another Winter Coming for EU-Turkey Relations?”, Vol. III, Issue 10, pp.47-50, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey.(http://researchturkey.org/?p=7049&lang=tr)

Endnotes

[i] Row Junker bars any EU members for five years, 15 July 2014, Scotsman,

http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/row-as-juncker-bars-any-new-eu-members-for-5-years-1-3477066

[ii] EU Minister promotes Turkey’s new EU strategy, 18 September 2014, Hurriyet Daily news, in:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/eu-minister-promotes-turkeys-new-eu-strategy.aspx?pageID=238&nID=71910&NewsCatID=510

[iii] Joking Erdoğan and his ministers, 22 September 2014, Today’s Zaman, https://www.todayszaman.com/columnist/selcuk-gultasli/joking-erdogan-and-his-ministers_359521.html#

[iv] Turkey says EU report is balanced and objective, Daily Sabah, 09.10.2014, http://www.dailysabah.com/politics/2014/10/09/turkey-says-eus-2014-report-balanced-and-objective

[v] EU should expand Turkey accession talks top officials say, Europe Online Magazine, 08.10.2014, http://en.europeonline-magazine.eu/eu-should-expand-turkey-accession-talks-top-official-says_358550.html

[vi] Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2014-15, COM(2014) 700 final, 08.10.2014, Brussels.

[vii] Türkiye İlerleme Raporuna İlgisiz, T24, 09.10.2014, http://t24.com.tr/haber/turkiye-ilerleme-raporuna-ilgisiz,273262

[viii] Marc Pierini, Tusk, Mogherini and Turkey, 08.09.2014, http://carnegieeurope.eu/2014/09/08/tusk-mogherini-and-turkey

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