EU_EC: Key findings of the 2016 Report on Turkey


In the specific context, Quo Vadis EU – Turkey Relations?

EU gravely concerned about the degradation of the rule of law and democracy unfolding in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. In its own interest, Turkey urgently needs to stop moving away from the EU. turkey_europe_650935There has been backsliding in this area and practical implementation often shows significant shortcomings. Following the attempted coup in July, a state of emergency was declared under which far-reaching measures curtailing fundamental rights were taken. Many serious violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and of procedural rights were alleged in the aftermath of the coup attempt. The attempted coup in July was a shocking and brutal attack on the democratically elected institutions. Given the serious threat to Turkish democracy and the Turkish state, a swift and decisive reaction to that threat was legitimate. However, the scale and collective nature of measures taken in the aftermath of the coup attempt raise a number of questions.

© İsmail Doğan

EU, Turkey challenge each other to decide on membership bid

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This year’s annual report on Turkey comes at a very important point in time for Turkey and for EU-Turkey relations. EU gravely concerned about the degradation of the rule of law and democracy unfolding in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. In its own interest, Turkey urgently needs to stop moving away from the EU. There has been backsliding in this area and practical implementation often shows significant shortcomings. Following the attempted coup in July, a state of emergency was declared under which far-reaching measures curtailing fundamental rights were taken. Many serious violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and of procedural rights were alleged in the aftermath of the coup attempt. The attempted coup in July was a shocking and brutal attack on the democratically elected institutions. Given the serious threat to Turkish democracy and the Turkish state, a swift and decisive reaction to that threat was legitimate. However, the scale and collective nature of measures taken in the aftermath of the coup attempt raise a number of questions. The prospect of EU membership continues to drive transformation and anchor stability in the countries of Southeast Europe, and a credible enlargement process remains an irreplaceable tool to strengthen these countries and help them carry out political and economic reforms.

 

Brussels, 9 November 2016 – This year’s report on Turkey is issued in the specific context of a military coup attempt which occurred on the night of 15 July, leaving 241 casualties and 2 196 people wounded. The Turkish government with the support of the entire Turkish political spectrum and society, succeeded in overcoming the coup attempt. The EU strongly and immediately condemned the attempted coup, which represented a direct attack on democracy in Turkey as such, and reiterated its full support to the democratic institutions of the country.

On 20 July a state of emergency was declared across Turkey for three months, further extended for another three months on 3 October. Significant legislative amendments were introduced by decree. Turkey notified the Council of Europe of a derogation from its obligation to secure a number of fundamental rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Given the subsequent scale and collective nature of measures taken since the coup attempt, the EU called on the authorities to observe the highest standards in respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights, in line with Turkey’s international commitments and status as a candidate country.

Following the coup attempt, very extensive suspensions, dismissals, arrests and detentions took place over alleged links to the Gülen movement and involvement in the attempted coup. The measures affected the whole spectrum of society with particular impact on the judiciary, police, gendarmerie, military, civil service, local authorities, academia, teachers, lawyers, the media and the business community. Multiple institutions and private companies were shut down, their assets seized or transferred to public institutions.

While a relationship of trust and loyalty should exist between civil servants and the state and measures can be taken to ensure that, any allegation of wrongdoing should be established via transparent procedures in all individual cases. Individual criminal liability can only be established with full respect for the separation of powers, the full independence of the judiciary and the right of every individual to a fair trial, including through effective access to a lawyer. Turkey should ensure that any measure is taken only to the extent strictly required to the exigencies of the situation and in all cases stands the test of necessity and proportionality.

EU-Turkey relations face the same long term opportunities and challenges as before 15 July. Indeed, the past year had started off by deepening our relations in key areas of joint interest, as agreed at the EU-Turkey Summit of 29 November 2015. High level political dialogues and high level dialogues on energy and the economy took place. Turkey continued to make outstanding efforts to provide shelter to over 2.7 million refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Political criteria

Prior to the coup attempt the Parliament engaged in a heavy legislative agenda in order to implement the ambitious government reform action plan for 2016 and the legislative requirements of the visa liberalisation roadmap. However, several key pieces of legislation adopted regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights were not in line with European standards, such as the law on data protection. Political confrontation continued to beset the work of the legislative. The adoption of a law allowing the immunity of a large number of deputies to be lifted and the ensuing detentions and arrests of several HDP members of Parliament, including the two Co-Chairs, in November, are a matter of grave concern.

The situation in the south-east remained one of the most critical challenges for the country. Turkey saw a continued very serious deterioration in the security situation, leading to heavy casualties following the collapse of the Kurdish settlement process in July 2015 and was struck by several large-scale deadly terrorist attacks by PKK and Da’esh. The authorities pursued their extensive anti-terror military and security campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which remains on the EU list of terrorist organisations. Serious allegations of human rights violations and disproportionate use of force by the security forces in the south-east were increasingly reported. Many elected representatives and municipal executives in the south-east were suspended, removed from their duties, or arrested under terrorism-related charges, some of them on the basis of decrees under the state of emergency following the coup attempt. However, anti-terror measures need to be proportionate and must respect human rights. The settlement of the Kurdish issue through a political process is the only way forward; reconciliation and reconstruction are also becoming key issues for the authorities to address.

Civil society sought to remain active and involved in public life. Independent civil society organisations are rarely involved in law- and policy-making processes. Some of their representatives, including human rights defenders, have been detained and there were credible claims of intimidation. A large number of organisations were closed as part of the post-coup measures taken by the government for alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of public administration reform with a strong commitment to an open, responsive administration. However, there has been backsliding in the area of public service and human resources management in particular in the aftermath of the coup attempt. The structural impact on the functioning of the civil service of the measures taken after the coup attempt remains to be assessed.

Turkey’s judicial system is at an early stage/has some level of preparation. There has been backsliding in the past year, in particular with regard to the independence of the judiciary. The extensive changes to the structures and composition of high courts are of serious concern and are not in line with European standards. Judges and prosecutors continued to be removed from their profession and in some cases were arrested, on allegations of conspiring with the Gülen movement. This situation worsened further after the July coup attempt, following which one fifth of the judges and prosecutors were dismissed and saw their assets frozen. The judiciary must work in an environment allowing it to perform its duties in an independent and impartial manner, with the executive and legislature fully respecting the separation of powers. Under the state of emergency, Turkey has further extended for certain offences the pre-trial detention to 30 days without access to a judge against European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law and an important part of the judiciary is subject to these measures.

The country has some level of preparation for the fight against corruption. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. The adoption of a new strategy and anti-corruption action plan is a step forward even if it remains rather limited in scope. The legal framework continues to suffer from important gaps and the executive’s influence on the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases remains a major source of concern. Corruption perception remains high.

Turkey has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime. Institutional capacity was increased and new strategies and action plans were adopted. However, statistics on the number of final convictions and other important indicators are not available. Financial investigations remain underused. Precautionary freezing of assets is rarely applied and the level of assets confiscated is low. In the fight against terrorism, a comprehensive legal framework on terrorism financing is in place. The anti-terror law is not in line with the acquis with regard to its scope and definitions and its application raises serious fundamental rights concerns. Both the criminal and anti-terror legislation should be aligned with ECtHR case-law, without reducing the capacity of Turkey to fight terrorism. The proportionality principle must be observed in practice.

The Turkish legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights, which need to be further improved. The enforcement of rights stemming from the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights is not yet ensured. Many allegations of serious violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and of procedural rights were reported in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. Yet, all measures taken must be in line with the principles of proportionality and respect for human rights. The new Law on the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey is a step in the right direction. It contains provisions on prohibiting discrimination on a large number of grounds, but does not explicitly cover sexual orientation. There is still a need to adopt a fully comprehensive dedicated law on combating discrimination. A legal vacuum exists on human rights cases as the new National Human Rights and Equality institution has not yet been established. The rights of the most vulnerable groups and of persons belonging to minorities should be sufficiently protected. Gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, hate crime and violations of human rights of LGBTI persons continue to be a source of a serious concern. Regarding the renewed considerations to introduce a bill in parliament to reinstate the death penalty, the EU recalls that the unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the EU acquis and a central international obligation to which Turkey has committed.

There has been serious backsliding in the past year in the area of freedom of expression. Selective and arbitrary application of the law, especially of the provisions on national security and the fight against terrorism, is having a negative impact on freedom of expression.Ongoing and new criminal cases against journalists, writers or social media users, withdrawal of accreditations, high numbers of arrests of journalists as well as closure of numerous media outlets in the aftermath of the July attempted coup are of serious concern. Freedom of assembly continues to be overly restricted, in law and practice.

Turkey continued to express support for the talks on the Cyprus settlement between the leaders of the two communities,and for the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser. Turkey’s commitment and contribution in concrete terms to this comprehensive settlement remains crucial. However, Turkey has still not fulfilled its obligation to ensure full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and has not removed all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus. There was no progress on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. The conclusions on Turkey that were adopted by the Council (General Affairs and External Relations) on 11 December 2006 and endorsed by the European Council in December 2006 remain in force. They stipulate that negotiations will not be opened on eight chapters[*] relating to Turkey’s restrictions regarding the Republic of Cyprus and no chapter will be provisionally closed until the Commission confirms that Turkey has fully implemented the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement.

Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations, international agreements, and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice. In this context, the EU has expressed once again serious concern and urged Turkey to avoid any kind of threat or action directed against a Member State, or source of friction or actions that damages good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Economic criteria

The Turkish economy is well advanced and can be considered a functioning market economy. Still, the large external deficit makes the Turkish economy vulnerable to financial uncertainty, changes in global investors’ sentiment and political risks. The central bank cut interest rates even though inflation remained well above the official target. The business environment continued to deteriorate due to targeted actions against critical media and business people and political opponents through the active use of the tax authority, the financial crimes unit and courts. The implementation of structural reforms to improve the functioning of the markets for goods, services and labour has stalled.Overall, there was backsliding.

Turkey has a good level of preparation in achieving the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Some progress was made in a number of areas, most notably through further liberalising the energy sector. Significant problems remain as regards the quality of education. There are also problems of access to education for girls. The lira’s real appreciation has reduced the economy’s price competitiveness.

EU legislation

Regarding its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Turkey has continued to align with the acquis. With the positive exception of the visa liberalisation related work, efforts continued at a limited pace. Turkey is well advanced in the areas of company law, trans-European networks and science and research and it has achieved a good level of preparation in the areas of free movement of goods, intellectual property law, financial services, enterprise and industrial policy, consumer and health protection, customs union, external relations and financial control. Turkey is only moderately prepared on public procurement as important gaps remain in its alignment. Turkey is also moderately prepared in the area of statistics and transport policy where further significant efforts are needed across the board. Turkey has only reached some level of preparation in environment and climate change where more ambitious and better coordinated policies still need to be established and implemented. In all areas, more attention needs to be given to enforce legislation whilst many areas require further significant progress to achieve legislative alignment with the EU acquis.

Key dates

September 1959: Turkey applies for associate membership of the European Economic Community (EEC)

September 1963: Signature of the Association Agreement, aiming at enhancing economic cooperation and achieving a Customs Union between Turkey and the EEC

April 1987: Turkey presents its formal application for membership of the European Economic Community

January 1995: Turkey – EU Agreement creating a customs union

December 1999: The European Council recognises Turkey as a candidate country

December 2004: The European Council agrees to start accession negotiations with Turkey

October 2005: Start of accession negotiations

December 2006: The Council decides that eight negotiating chapters cannot be opened and no chapter can be closed until Turkey meets its obligation of full, non-discriminatory implementation of the additional protocol to the Association Agreement

May 2012: European Commission and Turkey start the implementation of the Positive agenda for Turkey

November 2013: Chapter 22 on Regional Policy and coordination of structural instruments becomes the 14th chapter on which negotiations are opened

December 2013: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement is signed in parallel with the launching of the visa liberalisation dialogue

October 2014: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement enters into force

March 2015: The European Commission and Turkey launch a high level energy dialogue

May 2015: The European Commission and Turkey agree to modernise the 20-year-old Customs Union Agreement and to enhance EU-Turkey bilateral trade relations

November 2015: On the occasion of the EU-Turkey Leaders Meeting, both sides agree on the activation of a Joint Action Plan aiming at ending the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU, in full compliance with EU and international standards

December 2015: Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy becomes the 15th chapter on which negotiations are opened

January 2016: The EU-Turkey high level energy dialogue takes place

March 2016: The EU and Turkey agree on a joint Statement on the basis of the Joint Action Plan of November 2015

April 2016: The first EU-Turkey high level economic dialogue takes place

May 2016: The third Report on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap is published

June 2016: Chapter 33 on financial and budgetary provisions becomes the 16th chapter on which negotiations are opened

September 2016: The third Report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 is published

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