Nov 21 2018

Erdoğan signs off on EU aid despite criticism over human rights

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has approved an agreement to free up 123 million euros of EU financial aid despite criticism in the document about the country’s record on human rights.

Erdoğan signed off on the aid package, which is designed to improve Turkish democracy and the rule of law, this week, according to a decision published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday.

There are serious shortcomings concerning basic rights and freedoms in Turkey that should be addressed, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said in the agreement. Erdoğan regularly slams EU officials and politicians for what he says is their unfair treatment and criticism of Turkey.

The document carries the signatures of Myriam Ferran, director for Turkish strategy in the commission’s department for enlargement, and Faruk Kaymakcı, Turkey’s permanent representative to the EU in Brussels.

Publication of the aid agreement came just prior to a decision on Tuesday by the European Court of Human Rights calling for the immediate release of pro-Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtaş from two years of detention. The ruling, welcomed by EU politicians and carrying the force of law, stated that Turkey had kept Demirtaş in custody with the intent of curtailing democratic freedoms and political debate. Erdoğan said Turkey would not abide by the decision.

Turkey’s application for membership of the EU has been blighted by EU assertions that the country is straying from the bloc's democratic values. The EU’s political leaders have frozen the opening of new chapters in the membership talks as a result.

Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of politicians, journalists, academics and bureaucrats on terrorism charges since a failed military coup in July 2016, prompting an outcry from Western governments and human rights defenders. Erdoğan, who won increased powers at an election in June, held under a state of emergency, says that the measures are needed to maintain democracy and order in the country.

The European Parliament has called on the EU’s leaders to push on with negotiations in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, saying freezing the membership talks means excluding political debate with Turkey that might help bring change.