EU lashes out at Turkey over rule of law, rights, freedoms

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wearing a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, inspects a military honour guard at the parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Turkey’s government is being accused of hiding the true extent of the country’s coronavirus outbreak after the health minister revealed that the daily COVID-19 figures published by his ministry reflect only patients with symptoms and not all positive cases. (Turkish Presidency via AP. Pool)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union said Tuesday that Turkey’s negotiations on joining the world’s biggest trade bloc shouldn’t be accelerated because of its failure to uphold democratic standards, protect the independence of its courts and effectively fight corruption.

In a scathing report on Turkey’s progress toward EU membership, the European Commission said Turkish authorities continue to pressure civil society, aid groups and the media, and that political power is still being concentrated in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey rejected some of the findings and branded the EU as “prejudiced.”

“Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union. However, Turkey has continued to move further away from the European Union with serious backsliding in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary,” the commission said.

Turkey began its EU membership talks in 2005 but they have stood at a standstill in recent years, and tensions with Ankara have mounted since over its disputed energy exploration in parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

Some EU countries oppose the large, relatively poor and mainly Muslim country joining. Germany, notably, would prefer an alternate kind of “privileged partnership.” France too is opposed to Turkey’s membership, and all 27 EU nations must agree for any country to join.

Countries hoping to take a seat at Europe’s big table must align their laws and legislation in 35 policy areas, or negotiating chapters. EU leaders agreed in 2018 that no new chapters in Turkey’s accession talks should be opened or closed.

“The report presented today confirms that the underlying facts leading to this assessment still hold, despite the government’s repeated commitment to the objective of EU accession,” said the commission, which runs and monitors membership talks on behalf of the 27 EU nations.

It also said that the “adverse impacts” of a state of emergency, which was imposed by Erdogan after a failed military coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 and lifted two years ago, are still being felt today.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the report was a reflection of “the EU’s prejudiced, unconstructive and double-standard approach.” The report failed to mention the EU’s own “responsibilities and commitments” and criticized Turkey with “unfounded arguments,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Our sincere wish is for the EU to look at the EU candidate country Turkey, not through the selfish and narrow vision of certain circles, but through the common interest and vision of our continent,” it said.

Turkey’s dispute in the eastern Mediterranean with EU members Greece and Cyprus, as well as its roles in conflict-torn Libya and Syria were also criticized in the report, which noted that Ankara’s foreign policy has “increasingly collided with the EU priorities.”

The commission was more upbeat about Ankara’s migration policy. It said that “Turkey sustained its outstanding efforts to provide unprecedented humanitarian aid and support to more than 3.6 million registered refugees from Syria and around 370,000 registered refugees from other countries.”

The EU relies on Turkey to stop migrants from entering the bloc through its borders with Greece and Bulgaria, and is paying around 6 billion euros ($7 billion) to help Syrian refugees in the country to persuade Ankara not to let migrants head to Europe. EU leaders suggested last week that they are willing to send Turkey even more funds.

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Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

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