Refugee crisis: EU report on Turkey's membership contains muted criticism as it seeks nation’s co-operation with influx

Publication was delayed so as not to influence the country's recent election, but it is hard to see why since its language was so restrained as to suggest that the main intent of its authors was not to give offence to the Turkish government

Patrick Cockburn
Tuesday 10 November 2015 20:19
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Crowds in Ankara honour Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, in Ankara on Tuesday
Crowds in Ankara honour Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, in Ankara on Tuesday

The European Union has published its delayed annual report on Turkish membership of the bloc, urging Turkey to resume talks with the Kurds, limit restrictions on the media and respect human rights.

Its publication was delayed by the EU so as not to influence the Turkish elections, but it is hard to see why, since its language was so restrained as to suggest that the main intent of its authors was not to give offence to the Turkish government.

While negotiations for Turkey to enter the EU have been dead in the water for years, ensuring that the EU has little influence over its behaviour, the need for Turkish co-operation has grown this year because there are some 2.2 million Syrian refugees in the country, many of whom are now making their way to the EU via Greece and the Balkan states.

The EU wants Turkey to absorb more refugees itself, in return for making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, along with financial aid and speeded up talks on EU membership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attracted criticism from the Turkish opposition just before election when she visited Istanbul and held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which she said there could be no solution to the migration crisis without Turkey.

The EU report “emphasises an overall negative trend in the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights”. There are also significant shortcomings affecting the judiciary and freedom of expression.

This is one way of describing the near total domination of television and press coverage by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which helped it win a majority in the general election on 1 November. But any criticism of its domestic policies by the EU is unlikely to be taken seriously by the Turkish government. Punches are pulled throughout. The report says that “the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers has been undermined since 2014 and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure”.

In practice, the courts do what the government tells them to do and the AKP has progressively seized control of all levers of power such as the judiciary, army and media since it first came to power in 2002.

The EU draws attention to the fact that over the past year “Turkey saw a severe deterioration in its security situation”. This followed suicide bombings by Isis at Suruc on 20 July and in Ankara on 10 October that together killed 134 people. The government used the first of these attacks as the occasion to relaunch a war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The greater violence and insecurity enabled the AKP to present itself successfully to voters as a guarantor of stability and as the party of Turkish nationalism.

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