May 30 2019

EU report on Turkey: Backslide in democracy, rights, and economy

Turkey has experienced considerable backsliding in the rule of law and the judiciary, fundamental rights, economic institutions, anti-corruption measures, media freedom and other areas, the European Commission (EC) said in its annual report on Wednesday

Turkey has been an official EU candidate country since 1999, though it has had a customs union deal with the EU in place since January 1996. Accession negotiations started in October 2005, but have stalled in the last few years. 

“Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill,” said the EC, envisioning no further chapters of accession negotiations and no further work toward modernisation of the customs union.

“It makes no sense to continue talks with this government,” said Kati Piri, European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, responding to the report. “However, the EU must stand in solidarity with Turkey's population.”

Presenting the report at a press conference, Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said Turkey had been drifting away from the EU, Euronews reported

The report reveals the death of Turkey’s EU accession process, said EU-Turkey relations expert Cengiz Aktar in a podcast with Ahval

The report laid out a comprehensive deterioration in democratic institutions and human rights, as well as in economic institutions and the market economy:

  • The enforcement of fundamental rights is hindered by the fragmentation and limited independence of public institutions responsible for protecting those rights and freedoms as well as by the lack of an independent judiciary.
  • More than 150,000 people were taken into custody during the state of emergency declared after a failed coup attempt in 2016. Among 78,000 who were arrested on terrorism-related charges, 50,000 are still in jail. 
  • There are questions as to how thoroughly individual evidence is being considered by an Inquiry Commission, established in 2017 to decide on the appeals of more than 152,000 civil public servants that have been dismissed using emergency decrees. There is a general lack of procedural guarantees for applicants, while there is no clear criteria for the prioritisation of cases. As of May 2019, a total of 126,000 applications relating to dismissal from public service had been made, while  the commission has reviewed 70,406 and only 5,250 have led to reinstatement, while 65,156 complaints have been rejected. 
  • Following local polls on March 31, the decisions by the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to re-run the metropolitan mayoral election in Istanbul as well as to grant the mayorship of individual municipalities in the south-east to second-placed candidates are a source of serious concern regarding the respect of the legality and integrity of the electoral process, as well as about the institution’s independence from political pressure.
  • Civil society has come under continuous pressure, notably in the face of a large number of arrests of activists, while there is also public stigmatisation of independent civil society organisations.
  • Political pressure on judges and prosecutors and transfers of a large number of judges and prosecutors against their will continued. The dismissal and forced removal of 30 percent of judges and prosecutors following the 2016 attempted coup remain.
  • In the southeast, there is a lack of credible and effective investigations into reported killings by the security authorities. Reported cases of abductions and enforced disappearances by security or intelligence services in several provinces have not been adequately investigated.
  • Allegations of torture and ill treatment remain a serious concern, while the handling of complaints are reported to be ineffective, and allegedly entails a risk of reprisal.
  • The prison population rate reached 318 per 100,000 inhabitants and, as of December 2018, the prison population stands at 260,000. At present, 743 children are staying with their detained mothers.
  • As of December 2018, the total number of detainees in prison without an indictment or pending trial is 57,000. Over 20 percent of the total prison population are in prison for terrorism-related charges, including journalists, political activists, lawyers and human rights defenders. 
  • Exercise of the freedom of expression has been considerably hampered with over 160 journalists in prison. 
  • As of January 2019, it is estimated that 1,546 lawyers have been prosecuted, including 274 who have been convicted of membership of a terrorist organisation. There are around 500 lawyers under arrest and awaiting trial.
  • In relation to freedom of expression, judicial control of requests relating to content takedowns or the blocking of content based on decisions by criminal judges led to concerns. An estimated 170,000 sites are reportedly banned.
  • Lack of transparency of media funding, the growing influence of political interests on editorial policies, the concentration of media ownership, the shrinking space for pluralism and restrictions on freedom of expression, the lack of independence of regulatory authorities remain of concern. 
  • The legislation on the freedom of assembly and association and its implementation are not in line with European standards and do not abide by the Turkish Constitution.
  • As of November 2018, 1,008 companies based in 42 provinces across Turkey with a total asset value of 55.9 billion lira (8.8 billion) Euro had been seized or had a trustee appointed since the coup attempt.
  • Both the legal and institutional frameworks continued to allow undue influence from the executive in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.
  • Serious backsliding continued in the Turkish economy, leading to deeper concerns over the functioning of the country’s market economy.
  • Turkish authorities have negatively influenced the functioning of markets, particularly by interfering with price formation and introducing constraints on the free use of foreign exchange. Concerns regarding the independence of key economic institutions have deepened.
  • A major restructuring of the public administration and civil service system took place through presidential decrees. Changes to the civil service system have further increased the politicisation of the administration.
  • There has been backsliding on economic and monetary policy, because of increased political pressure on the central bank, undermining its independence and credibility. 

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