21st Jul 2019

Turkey hits back after EU enlargement report

Turkey's chief negotiator on EU accession, Egemen Bagis, has joined in the country's backlash against a European Commission report which criticised its blockade of Cyprus and laid out a laundry list of civil liberties shortcomings.

Mr Bagis in a written response to EUobserver's questions on Wednesday (10 November) accused the EU of not doing enough to help end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots, of "irrationally" blocking talks on energy co-operation and of "hiding" its real reasons for the slow pace of accession behind Cyprus.

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  • Bagis: the Turkish negotiator is known in Brussels diplomatic circles for having a sharp tongue (Photo: Turkish foreign ministry)

"We regret to note that the Direct Trade Regulation [DTR], which was part of the EU Council Conclusions of 26 April 2004, is still in deadlock," he said, referring to the EU's years-long failure to honour its own decision on trade with the North.

"The isolations on the Turkish Cypriots should be lifted ... If British Airways or Lufthansa or any EU national carrier starts flights to Ercan airport in Northern Cyprus, Turkey would then consider opening her ports to Greek Cypriot planes and vessels."

Noting that Cyprus has stamped its veto on the energy section of the enlargement talks, he added: "Blocking the Energy Chapter because of one country's political ambitions and unilateral demands on a completely different topic is irrational behaviour."

"The EU, hiding behind the clause of solidarity among member states, has not played a constructive role in encouraging the Greek Cypriots for a comprehensive solution in Cyprus," he said. "There might be other somewhat domestic reasons such as rising Islamophobia, the rise of the right-wing, economic fears and incertitude. Or it might simply be a lack of vision. This leads to an overall myopia on the crucial contributions that Turkey makes to Europe now and will make in the future."

The 104-page-long commission report, out on Tuesday, urged Ankara to open up its ports and airports to Cyprus unilaterally. It painted a picture of Turkey as becoming increasingly wealthy and liberal. But it said the constitutional reform process has not gone far enough and noted that the situation for journalists, women and gay people looks distinctly un-European on the other side of the bloc's southern border.

Reporters in Turkey can still face criminal proceedings for the archaic offence of "insulting the Turkish nation." A tax case against the government-critical Dogan Media Group has spooked journalists into self-censorship. And videos making fun of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, saw YouTube pulled off the wires for over a year and a half.

The situation looks good for women on paper. But in practice so-called "honour killings" are up, early and forced marriages "remain serious problems" and tens of thousands of girls in eastern and south-eastern regions are out of school. In school "textbooks still contain stereotypes about women's role and status."

Meanwhile, the Turkish establishment promotes intolerance against gay people. The EU Commission noted that the minister for women publicly called homosexuality a "disorder" while the army calls it as a "psychosexual illness." The negative climate has seen killings of transvestites and transsexuals; police beatings of transgender activists; people losing their jobs for being gay; and authorities punishing gay people under bylaws on "offences against public morality."

"I am by no means saying that the press has nothing to look forward to [in terms of reforms]. Yet I also strongly object to picturing the Turkish media as one that is subdued by laws and political intolerance. On the contrary, I am rather proud of our vocal and diverse media, our growing regional press and broadcasts in different languages and dialects used by our citizens other than Turkish," Mr Bagis countered.

"There has been considerable progress in terms of strengthening pluralist democracy and the climate of tolerance and mutual understanding. This process has been going on for a long time in many different walks of life. The reforms are now mature enough and I believe after the next general elections in 2011, we will be able to put our pens to paper for a new constitution with a broad participatory process with the involvement of all political and social actors."

Chorus of resentment

Mr Bagis reaction echoes similar statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the France 24 TV channel also on Wednesday.

"As long as we are not a member of the EU, the EU will not become a global actor. I say this very clearly," Mr Erdogan said. "The European Union has something missing in it. If Turkey becomes a member of the EU, it will become a bridge between the EU and one-and-a-half billion Muslim people."

The Turkish ambassador to Austria, Kadri Ecved Tezcan, went further in an interview with Austrian daily Die Presse. The 61-year-old career diplomat said Austria, which opposes Turkey's EU entry, treats ethnic Turks "like a virus," that Austrian people are not interested in other cultures and that its interior minister, Maria Fekter, is unfit to do her job.

The outburst has caused a diplomatic spat between Vienna and Ankara. "He crossed many red lines. His remarks were unacceptable," Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg told Reuters.

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