Brussels: The EU accused Turkey on Tuesday of backsliding on the rule of law, rights and the media, calling on the new government to take urgent action in a sensitive report that Brussels held back until after elections.
The scathing report on Ankara’s EU candidacy, originally due for release before the vote that returned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party to power, praised Turkey for housing Syrian refugees and for cooperating on the migration crisis.
But it was severely critical of the domestic situation in Muslim majority Turkey, saying that under Erdogan there had been “serious backsliding” on freedom of expression and that the judiciary had been undermined.
“The report emphasises an overall negative trend in the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights,” said a summary of the report’s key findings by the European Commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm.
Turkey’s commitment to joining the 28-nation bloc was “offset” by domestic actions that “ran against European standards”, it added.
“The new government formed after the repeat election on 1 November will need to address these urgent priorities,” the summary said.
The report highlighted criminal cases against journalists and writers, intimidation of media outlets and changes to Internet law.
“After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years,” it said.
It added that the “independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers have been undermined since 2014 and judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure.”
– ‘Severe deterioration’ in security –
Turkey had meanwhile seen a “severe deterioration of its security situation” including a huge suicide bombing on a peace rally just before the election, and the collapse of a ceasefire with Kurdish militants.
The harsh report had been expected to be released in October but was held back until after the elections, in which Erdogan’s AKP party stormed back to a majority.
Its release comes just over a month after the EU announced a refugee cooperation deal with Turkey, the main launching point for migrants coming to Europe, including a possible three billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid.
The deal included pushing forward Turkey’s long-stalled accession process and speeding up visa liberalisation for Turks travelling to the EU.
But Erdogan and other officials have since dampened expectations, in a further sign of the troubled relationship between Ankara and Brussels.
Erdogan, who became prime minister in 2003 and then Turkey’s first directly-elected president in 2014, was initially hailed in the West for transforming Turkey into a model of Muslim democracy and turning around its basket-case economy.
But a brutal police crackdown on nationwide protests in 2013, a massive purge of the judiciary following the corruption probe and constant concerns about human rights have cooled relations with both Washington and Brussels.
Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005, but Ankara has since completed just one of the 33 “chapters” needed to join the bloc.