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28th Nov 2020

EU report contains stinging criticism of Turkey

  • In key areas, Turkey receives a thumbs down from the commission (Photo: EUobserver)

Freedom of speech in Turkey is not guaranteed, the military still plays a "significant" political role and non-Muslim religious communities face discrimination, the European Commission has said in a key report on Wednesday.

Just over a year after Turkey started membership negotiations with the EU in October 2005, the European Commission on Wednesday (8 November) released both a specific progress report on Turkey and a general enlargement report which also deals with Ankara's EU accession bid.

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The general report says that "Turkey has continued to make progress in reforms," but adds that "the pace of reforms has slowed."

"In 2007, it will be important to undertake determined efforts to broaden the reform momentum throughout Turkey," the document says.

The progress report – detailing specific policy areas - kicks off with a chapter on Turkey's compliance with the EU's political and human rights standards which according to the commission leaves a lot to be desired.

"The armed forces have continued to exercise significant political influence. Senior members of the armed forces have expressed their opinion on domestic and foreign policy issues," the text says referring to generals interfering in issues such as Cyprus, secularism and the Kurdish issue.

Further highlighting the uncontrolled role of Turkey's army, the text continues by stating that "no further progress has been achieved in terms of strengthening parliamentary overseeing of the military budget and expenditure."

'Climate of self-censorship'

The report is highly critical of restrictions on freedom of speech in the EU candidate country – targeting in particular the notorious article 301 of Turkey's recently adopted penal code, which penalises insults against "Turkishness".

"The prosecutions and convictions for the expression of non-violent opinion under certain provisions of the new Penal Code are a cause for serious concern and may contribute to a climate of self-censorship in the country."

"Freedom of expression in line with European standards is not yet guaranteed in the present legal framework," Brussels concludes in the document.

Brussels in the report welcomes a "downward trend" in the number of cases of torture and ill-treatment but notes at the same time that torture cases are "still being reported, in particular outside detention centres."

The report further says that non-Muslim religious communities "continued to face restricted property rights" while "full respect of women's rights remains a critical problem, particularly in the poorest areas of the country."

Two local TV stations have been allowed to air in the Kurdish language – but they are not allowed to show educational programmes in Kurdish.

No progress on Cyprus

As expected, Brussels has condemned Turkey's continued blocking of trade from EU member state Cyprus.

"Turkey has continued to deny access to its ports to vessels flying the Republic of Cyprus flag or where the last port of call is Cyprus," Brussels notes, adding Ankara's restrictions "infringe the customs union agreement" it signed with the EU.

But Brussels has postponed a recommendation on whether or not to suspend the accession talks because of Turkey's stance on Cyprus - until a later date before an EU leaders summit in December.

"The commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the European Council, if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations," the text says.

Some positive notes

Despite the generally critical tone of the report – with "limited" or "no" progress reported also in the areas of agriculture, the environment and in many internal market-related areas - the commission also has some praise for Turkey.

"Turkey's overall alignment with EU common foreign and security policy has continued," the document says referring to the country's positive role in the Middle East.

Progress is also welcomed in specific areas ranging from the fight against human trafficking to monetary and competition policy.

As for education and culture, "alignment is nearly complete and overall Turkey is well prepared for accession in this area," according to the report.

"Education and culture" is among the next negotiating chapters waiting in line to be opened as part of the accession talks – but Cyprus has said it will veto the opening of any new chapter unless Turkey gives in on opening its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic before the end of the year.

EU treads carefully and gives Turkey talks one more chance

Brussels' efforts to keep the Turkey EU talks on track by not recommending whether to freeze negotiations over the Cyprus issue has sparked further speculation on what a possible "train crash" in Ankara's accession process could look like.

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