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25th Feb 2017

Erdogan uses EU stage to justify crackdown

  • Erdogan meets the press in Brussels: More journalists were jailed in Turkey than any other country in the world last year (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels on Tuesday (21 January) justified his crackdown on Turkish judges and said anonymous “groups” are trying to give him a bad name.

He spoke to media on his first visit to the EU capital in five years, on a trip to mark the recent restart of accession talks.

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He said he respects the independece of the judiciary.

But he noted: “If the judiciary wants to use its power in a non-independent manner, then this could cause problems.”

He added: “If we consider the judiciary as a special power, then this would lead to a country under judicial rule, not democracy. We believe in democracy and that the supreme power is the power of the people and the legislature, where the power of the people is represented.”

He spoke after recently tabling a bill that would give him control over the HSYK, the Turkish body which appoints judges and prosecutors.

The measure is part of a wider purge on law enforcement officials who tried to investigate corruption in his inner circle.

It comes amid other measures to strengthen his grip on power.

A new internet law is to give his administration the right to delete online content, block individual users and snoop on people’s emails.

Last year, he jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

He also used police violence to break up peaceful pro-democracy protests in Istanbul.

He spoke in Brussels the same day his central bank opted not to raise benchmark interest rates - a move seen by analysts as bowing to political diktat.

But Erdogan said: “The central bank of Turkey is an independent entity. It does not report to me or to any of my ministers.”

He refrained from the kind of rhetoric he uses at home - that the corruption allegations are a plot by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic guru living in the US, and the US intelligence agency, the CIA, to weaken Turkey.

But he alluded to the conspiracy theory, saying “some groups” are trying to spread “negative approaches toward our country.”

“The judiciary should not go beyond its defined mission, and this is what we are doing in Turkey, everything else you hear is misinformation,” he noted.

Some EU officials had earlier indicated that Erdogan would get a hostile reception in Brussels.

Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele told a group of MEPs last week the EU might threaten to stop the accession talks. One EU official told this website that European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso will "tell him [Erdogan] to wake up and to stop what he's doing."

But Barroso and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy, who spoke to press alongside the Turkish PM, avoided public confrontation.

Neither of them challenged Erdogan’s claim that his crackdown on the judiciary is the judiciary’s fault.

Barroso indicated that his actions risk spooking European investors.

“More than 75 percent of foreign investment in Turkey comes from the EU. This shows how close we are in economic terms and also, I hope, in political terms,” he said.

But he took at face value the authoritarian Turkish leader’s pledge to respect EU norms.

“I am very happy because Prime Minister Erdogan, in a very open and frank manner, addressed all these issues and gave us his assurance to respect the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers,” the commission chief said.

For his part, Van Rompuy noted “it is important not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination.”

He referred to the crackdown only as “these developments … these events.”

When asked if Erdogan had, in private, showed him any evidence of the judicial abuse which the Turkish PM says justifies the HSYK law, Van Rompuy replied: “What we, the Turkish Prime Minister, the European Commission President, are saying here is exactly the same as what we said in our internal talks.”

He added that it is not his job to speak out on Turkish politics, but only to comment whether Turkish regulations are in line with EU law.

“We have not to have an analysis of the political situation - that’s internal, that’s for Turkey to make it’s own analysis. We have to deal with acts and legal texts. That’s what we are giving our opinion on,” he said.

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