Turkey and EU to continue dialogue despite concerns on human rights

Turkey is a key strategic partner of the European Union despite the bloc’s concerns on several issues including the detentions of academics and civil society activists, Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner on enlargement said on Thursday, Hürriyet daily reported.

Turkish and EU delegations gathered in Ankara for a high-level political dialogue meeting, after the Turkish government took steps in August to revitalise the country’s EU accession bid after an almost three-year freeze. 

Hahn and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s head of foreign affairs and security policies, arrived in Ankara on Thursday to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is now also in charge of Turkey’s EU affairs.

“We will address priority issues of EU-Turkey relations such as the rule of law and human rights, energy, migration, economic cooperation and security,” Hahn said on Twitter after he landed Ankara. 

Hahn said during a joint press conference with Mogherini and Çavuşoğlu that the EU was aware of Turkey’s efforts to help refugees and said that they had discussed with Turkish foreign minister steps to be taken on judicial reforms and on European Convention on Human Rights. 

“But I have to stress once more that our concerns over several issues have remained unchanged," Hahn said, expressing EU's concerns on Turkish academics and human rights defenders detained last week over what the prosecutors say their role in organising Gezi Park protests in 2013.

Hahn also mentioned Turkish philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala who has been in jail for more than a year without an indictment and said judicial proceedings should be based on the presumption of innocence.

Hahn said that at the moment there were no plans to open new chapters for Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, adding that the EU commission and the member states had been making efforts to strengthen relations between two sides.

Mogherini said she had expressed strong concerns in talks with Çavuşoğlu about the recent detentions of academics, noting that she hoped the detained pro-Kurdish opposition politician, Selahattin Demirtaş, would be released soon.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey sought to limit democratic freedoms and political debate by imprisoning Demirtaş for two years and asked for his immediate release. 

Following the verdict, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey was not bound by the decision of the court.

Mogherini said that they had a very positive, constructive, open and honest meeting with Çavuşoğlu and welcomed Turkey’s efforts to improve its relations with the EU. 

Mogherini also said that the two sides would continue to work together on foreign policy issues like Syria, Iran, and other common areas on interest and that the EU would continue to support Turkey in handling the refugee crisis. 

Turkey is an EU candidate country and should not face political obstacles, Çavuşoğlu said in the press conference. 

He said Turkey expected more concrete support from the EU in counter-terrorism and welcomed the European Court of Justice’s decision last week to keep Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on the EU’s terror list.