Posted on: Euractiv | May 30th, 2019
Author: Zeynep Atilgan

In its flagship annual report on enlargement, the European Commission warned Turkey that it has continued to move further away from the European Union, with serious backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights.

The Enlargement Package 2019 was announced by the Commission on Wednesday (29 May). According to the report, dialogue and cooperation between the EU and Turkey, including at highest level, have continued in essential areas of joint interest, including through effective cooperation on migration and support to refugees.

However, the report warned that Turkey has moved further away from the EU, “with serious backsliding not only in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights but also through the weakening of effective checks and balances in the political system”, created by the 2017 constitutional amendment enacted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Commission highlighted that Turkey needs to improve the effective protection of fundamental rights and adopt and implement a comprehensive and credible reform of the judiciary that restores its independence.

The report said that the situation was unchanged from the Council’s assessment in 2018.  “Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing”, it stressed and added that “the underlying facts leading to Council’s assessment still hold”.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said: “The Turkish government states its commitment to the EU accession, but we see the country continues to move further away from the EU.”

She underlined that it would be beneficial for all and in particular for Turkish citizens if this trend is reversed urgently, which the EU would obviously always welcome. “We also emphasize the importance of good neighbourly relations and avoiding tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Mogherini added.

Burning issues

The report said that the new presidential system removed many of the checks and balances that existed previously, which has led to further politicisation of the public administration and the judiciary.

A constitutional referendum in 2017 granted more powers to the President. At that time, the Commission urged to change the type of relations with Turkey.

A more recent development, the re-run decision of Istanbul mayoral election, made by the High Election Council, is also criticised in the report. “They go against the very core of a democratic electoral process – that is to ensure that the will of the people prevails,” the Commission report said.

Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) ordered earlier this month a rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral elections, accepting the ruling AK Party’s objection 36 days after a stunning opposition victory in the country’s biggest city.

The enlargement report also highlights the cooperation between the EU and Turkey on the refugee issue. It is remarked that the declining trend in irregular crossings from Turkey to the EU since the entry into force of the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement was supported by intensified efforts by Turkey.

“Turkey sustained its outstanding efforts to provide massive humanitarian aid and support to more than 3.6 million refugees from Syria and around 370 000 refugees from other countries,” is said in the report.

The Commission said that by May 2019, out of the €6 billion mobilised by the EU, more than 80 projects for refugees in Turkey had been launched.

Tensions with Cyprus

Cyprus was another subject highlighted in the Turkey title report.

The Commission has mentioned the importance of preserving the progress made so far in the UN-led settlement talks on Cyprus and pursing preparations for a comprehensive, fair and viable settlement.

It is said that Turkey’s continued commitment and contribution to these negotiations will be of great importance.

Meanwhile, the Commission has expressed its concerns over Turkey’s actions and statements challenging the right of Cyprus to exploit hydrocarbon resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Turkey’s obligation to respect international law and good neighborly relations has been recalled. “Turkey has to respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law,” the Commission stated.

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