MEPs push Turkey to reform

04.03.14 @ 18:14

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - After nearly eight months of talks, MEPs in the foreign affairs committee on Monday (3 March) voted on a resolution on Turkey’s progress towards EU accession.

  • Erdogan (l) has led Turkey for the past 11 years (Photo: Fortum Sverige)

The carefully scripted document, drafted by Dutch centre-right MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, describes Turkey as a “strategic partner” but also says it must initiate urgent reforms and promote political dialogue.

“It was never a dull moment when you are rapporteur for Turkey,” Oomen-Ruijten told deputies following the vote.

“We hope they reform the country because if you want a prosperous state, reform is needed,” she added.

The discussions were protracted because of on-going events in Turkey, which saw Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan launch a number of authoritarian responses to ward off persistent allegations of wide-scale corruption.

The resolution, was in part, a response to the Erdogan’s squeeze on power.

The text “expresses deep concern” about Turkey’s new laws, which threaten judicial independence and curtail freedom of expression on the Internet.

The MEPs say there is a lack of “genuine dialogue” on the two new laws.

“We feel that these laws move Turkey away from its path towards the Copenhagen criteria,” Oomen-Ruijten’s office told this website, referring to EU benchmarks on democracy.

At the end of last year, the embattled leader purged thousands of police officers, hundreds of prosecutors and government officials to remove what he described as a “parallel state” orchestrated by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

In February, Turkey’s parliament introduced a bill, which allows a government agency to shut down websites within hours without a court order if they are deemed to violate privacy or are seen as having “insulting” content.

The move was roundly condemned by the European Union.

The European Commission, for its part, has placed the rule of law at the core of its enlargement policy with Turkey.

But in its 2013 progress report, published last October and backed by Monday’s resolution, the commission warned of a political climate marked by polarisation and a government’s “uncompromising stance in the face of dissent.”

Despite long-running efforts at judicial reform, the country’s top judges and prosecutors are now under the control of the justice ministry after Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul signed a controversial bill into law last week.

The bill provoked fist-fights among MPs in Turkey’s parliament, an assembly dominated by Erdogan loyalists.

On Monday, Turkey’s parliament passed another controversial bill to shut down private preparatory schools in 2015.

Many of them are run by Gulen.

Turkey has also imprisoned dozens of journalists, following the crack down on the Gezi Park protests last summer, with self-censorship rampant among a media often intimidated by the ruling elite.

Dutch Liberal Marietje Schaake was more direct in her analysis of events.

“The crisis in Turkey destabilises the core of the rule of law and is only getting worse,” she said in a statement.

EU accession negotiations with Turkey began in 2005 but outstanding issues, including its refusal to recognise Cyprus, has stalled the process.

Thirteen out of 33 negotiation chapters have been opened and one chapter has been provisionally closed.

The committee resolution is set for a vote in the plenary in March.

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