EU criticises Turkey over human rights record and democracy
Europe keen for closer ties with Turkey if they fulfil democratic rights and obligations.
The EU Commission has released a progress report accusing the Turkish government of 'major shortcomings' when it comes to protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The report, aimed at assessing Turkey's candidacy for EU membership, was originally scheduled for release before the elections that returned President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power.
The findings demonstrate how far Ankara is from meeting EU accession criteria - a process EU leaders recently committed to "reenergising."
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However, given the key strategic role Turkey will play in alleviating a worsening refugee crisis, EU leaders remain open to closer ties with the country. European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey was “more or less ready” to start negotiations with the bloc.
MEPs have used the report as an opportunity to call on the new government to deliver change and respect the rule of law and fundamental rights in line with the required EU standards. Their responses demonstrate a willingness to work with Ankara, though only where certain conditions are satisfied.
Richard Howitt, the S&D group's foreign affairs coordinator, said the Socialists have, "always been a great supporter of Turkey's integration with the EU. We also consider Turkey as a central partner in facing the migration crisis, as well as a major player in solving the conflict in Syria."
He continued, "However, we express our grave concern about violations of rights of assembly, of press freedom and of minority rights, particularly during the electoral period."
S&D group Chair, Gianni Pittella also supported strengthening relations between the EU and Turkey, "particularly through the accession negotiation process."
However, he noted that, "Turkey, as a candidate country for EU membership has rights and obligations, and fully respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights is an obligation and a precondition for European integration."
Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake was less accommodating towards Turkey, criticising the EU Commission's decision to delay publishing the progress report until after the elections.
She said, "it is that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Turkey are under more pressure yet again.
"It is incomprehensible that the European Commission delayed publishing these important findings until after the elections. For the so-called "deal" that Vice President Frans Timmermans closed on the refugee crisis, principles apparently had to give way."
The report goes on to state that, "it is imperative that peace talks resume" between the government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), calls Turkey's track record fighting corruption 'inadequate' and says escalations of violence since July have given rise to "serious concerns over human rights violations."
With three million more refugees expected to arrive in the EU by the end of next year, Brussels has indicated that it could open negotiations with Turkey early next year on two critical areas of the membership process; justice and fundamental rights. How far Turkey goes in alleviating the refugee crisis is likely to have a bearing on the conclusions of any talks.
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