EU’s ‘Turkey Progress Report’ Issues Criticisms: State Violence in the East and Refugee Crisis the Elephants in the Room

*Source: Today’s Zaman ©

EU’s ‘Turkey Progress Report’ Issues Criticisms: State Violence in the East and Refugee Crisis the Elephants in the Room

The EU’s progress report on Turkey has aimed criticism at the PKK’s return to violent tactics. The report, which was released Tuesday, has condemned the armed group’s tactics, stating there can be “no violent solution” to the Kurdish question.

European Parliament rapporteur for Turkey Kati Piri told Reuters that some 400,000 civilians have been displaced since fighting broke out between the Kurdish armed group and the Turkish state after peace talks broke down mid 2015.

The report also levels similar though muted criticism at the Turkish government, urging that escalating security measures be tempered with “respect for the rule of law.” While the report defends the “legitimate right” of the Turkish government to enact security measures and fight terrorism, it also directed criticism at the AKP government’s restrictions on media freedom.

This echoes a previous progress report on the potential EU member released after the November 1 elections last year, which put pressure on the government to act swiftly to protect media freedom and human rights. The fall 2015 report also expressed concern over planned reforms to rewrite the constitution and adopt a presidential system which would give President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan far-reaching powers.

Piri criticized the EU’s response to growing violence in Turkey’s southeast. She argued that EU criticism of the Turkish government, particularly concerning its actions in combating the PKK, has so far been muted in an attempt to maintain Turkey’s continued cooperation in dealing with the influx of Syrian refugees.

Turkey is set to receive 3 billion Euros to help it prevent Syrians seeking asylum in Europe from leaving Turkey. Reuters quoted Piri as saying “The [EU] accession process… should be connected to democratic reforms or rule of law or what’s happening with the Kurdish question” as opposed to concerns over refugees moving through Turkey to Europe.

Turkey’s EU Affairs ministry has responded to the report, stating that it is “unfair and excessive.” The ministry’s official response cited a series of six judicial reform packages introduced during the AKP’s time in government as examples of democratization that the report had overlooked. Turkey also defended its security measures, stating that the report had not given due consideration to the balance between security and freedom that the government has tried to attain.

The report comes at a time of evident tension between Turkey and the EU. Recently leaked minutes from a February 7 meeting between Erdoğan and EU officials Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk suggest that the two major points of contention are the Syrian crisis and Turkey’s human rights record.

In the meeting, Erdoğan made clear Turkey’s bargaining power in the face of Europe’s desire to prevent any more Syrian refugees from reaching Europe. Arguing that Turkey should be given 3 billion Euros per year rather than three billion over two years, Erdoğan asked; “If there is no deal, how will you stop the refugees? Will you kill them?”

Tusk responded; “We can make the EU less attractive for refugees but this is not our desired solution.” Elaborating on this potential scenario, Erdoğan continued; “The EU will have more on its hands than just the boy drowning on the Turkish shores. It will be around 10, 15 thousand. How will you face this influx? The Paris attacks stemmed from poverty and a sense of isolation. These people are uneducated, they will continue to be terrorists in Europe as well.”

The meeting also revealed tensions surrounding Turkey’s potential membership to the EU and Turkey’s increasingly problematic human rights record, citing the November 2015 EU progress report, which Erdoğan dismissed as “an absolute insult.”

Juncker revealed that the delayed release of the November report on Turkey’s potential EU membership prospects had been an intentional act of goodwill, but that it came with the expectation that Turkey would soon agree to the EU’s terms on the 3-billion-euro package.

 “I will remind you that we delayed the publication of the progress report till after the Turkish elections. We were criticized for this delay. Tusk and I are not in a position to toy with the numbers, we need to cement a deal within 1-2 weeks,” he told Erdoğan.

Tuesday’s report also came just a day before an explosion detonated in Ankara killing 28 and wounding 61 on Wednesday evening, February 17. The attack targeted a vehicle containing military personnel waiting at a red traffic light in the heart of the country’s capital.

On Thursday morning February 18, Prime Minister Davutoğlu and President Erdoğan claimed that the attack had been carried out by YPG terrorists, the Syrian wing of the PKK.

The accusation against the YPG comes during a tense time in Turkey’s relation with the armed group, after Turkey carried out a series of shelling operations against the YPG in Northern Syria this past weekend. So far, both the YPG and the PKK have denied any involvement in the Ankara bombings.

Independent Turkey

Indepedent Turkey, “EU’s ‘Turkey Progress Report’ Issues Criticisms: State Violence in the East and Refugee Crisis the Elephants in the Room”, Independent Turkey, 18 February 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10797

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