'Hard to imagine' European future without Turkey

Ria Oomen-Ruijten says it is crucial to 'invest in the relations' between Turkey and the EU and maintain the reforms coming from Ankara.

By Ria Oomen-Ruijten MEP

14 Feb 2014

As the mandate of this European parliament is running to an end, it's surely time to look ahead. And when I think about the future of the European Union, I also see a role for Turkey. I don't know how or in which capacity, but it is hard to imagine a future of Europe that does not, to an extent, include Turkey.

I believe, therefore, that it is essential to invest in the relations between the EU and Turkey, in the framework of credible negotiations based on mutual commitment and I fully share the commission’s conclusion that Turkey is a strategic partner for the EU.

Parliament has the responsibility in this process to offer a balanced and objective analysis of the Turkish reform process. That means we have to welcome the important reforms that have been made – not only last year, but in the last decade. [pullquote]Reforms that were literally impossible to speak of 10 years ago are now the topic of broad debate and discussion in Turkish society[/pullquote]. I strongly believe that this is proof of the transformative power of negotiations between the EU and Turkey, which have provided Turkey with a clear reference for its reform process.

However, it is also our responsibility to underline the importance and urgent need of further reforms. On 9 December 2013, we had a first consideration of parliament’s draft resolution on Turkey in the foreign affairs committee. It would be an understatement to write that there have been some developments in the meantime – developments that deeply concern me.

Tackling corruption at all levels is an important element of a functioning rule of law, and I expect the investigations that were started on 17 December to continue unhindered. However, recent developments have raised concerns with regards to impartiality of the investigations and the separation of powers.

With regard to the rules regulating the high council of judges and prosecutors, the European parliament has consistently mentioned that the formal role of the minister of justice in this council as a source of concern. Any move to increase this role would also increase our concerns. Therefore, we ask the Turkish government to refrain from interference in judicial proceedings and to make sure that regulations are in line with the principles of independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, as well as the relevant articles of the constitution. We strongly advise the Turkish authorities that cooperation with the Venice commission is crucial in this regard.

Moreover, there are concerns with regard to freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey. We have consistently asked Turkey to reform its law on the internet, which limits freedom of expression, restricts citizens’ right of access to information and allows website bans of disproportionate scope and duration. The European court of human rights found the law to be in breach of the European convention in 2012. However, recently adopted amendments to the law do not remove these concerns, but seem to raise additional concerns.

In light of the above, it is important to increase our cooperation in the areas of judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, security and freedom. These are at the heart of the European project, and Turkey still needs to make significant efforts in this area. The EU should do its utmost to assist in this process and to remain the benchmark for reforms in the country.