November 11, 2015

European Commission not doing it right

Ali Yurttagül

The European Commission issued its 2015 progress report on Turkey on Tuesday.

Although it was originally scheduled to be released in October, it was delayed until after the election on Nov. 1. The commission, or more precisely, the EU's big guns, like Germany, didn't approve the announcement of the report ahead of the election with the concern that it might cast a shadow on the election. They opted to postpone it, fearing that it might adversely affect the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) chances of winning the election and that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might get angry with them. This election boost, seen as a bouquet from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Erdoğan, served its purpose fully. The AKP is in power once again.

But the European Commission did not do it right. Having already waited for four weeks, the commission could have postponed its announcement further so that it did not cast a shadow over the upcoming G-20 summit in Antalya. It could have released it on Wednesday, Nov. 18, for instance. In this way, certain leaders who might have rushed to highlight the fact that Turkey does not respect the rule of law and freedom of the press, etc., would not have been given the opportunity to do so at the G-20 meeting. I cannot understand why the commission chose not to do so, and why it did not grant President Erdoğan another favor. Perhaps, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker assumed that Ankara would "understand."

I don't understand how they can trust a politician who threatens EU countries like Germany with Syrian refugees, but we watched and saw that the threat was extremely effective. This is the first time in the history of the EU that the European Commission set aside its principle, "We cannot make progress if we change the schedule according to election dates of member countries." Indeed, the EU is a 28-member union and there is always an election in one of the member countries. However, the EU changed its working schedule according to the election in Turkey. President Erdoğan was so influential that he could make the EU abandon its fundamental principles and everyone witnessed this process.

Some people rightly criticize the real value of the report after this process, but it is still beneficial to have a look at it because it puts the spotlight on the realities Turkey faces. The EU may see Turkey as a disposable country, but it is a country. You can be sure that how Ankara chooses to comment on the report will be interesting.

The first fact that meets the eye is that the language used in the 2015 report is extremely harsh. Except for the sentences that stress Turkey's cooperation regarding Syrian refugees, there is nothing that can be defined as a “positive” assessment or as progress. "Positive" developments from EU accession Chapter 17, regarding economic and monetary policies, were highlighted at the beginning of the press release. This must have been to fulfil the need to find at least some positive remarks about Turkey. The section on political criteria is a chain of harsh criticisms and, as such, is like an epic account of regression.

Should I begin with the president overstepping his constitutional powers and authority and his efforts to meddle with basic issues in domestic and foreign policies? Or should I focus on the observation that the media was under great pressure during the election, which indicates that the police crackdown on Koza İpek Holding did not go unnoticed? Or should I quote the assertion, "After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years, with some level of preparation in this field"? Perhaps I should discuss the observation, "Media freedom remained an area of serious concern," which refers to the arrests, trials and dismissals of journalists that took place. I may also draw attention to the report's observation: "The Turkish judicial system, which had significantly improved between 2007 and 2013 in terms of independence, efficiency, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, has seen respect for the principle of separation of powers seriously undermined." Another option may be to emphasize the report drawing attention to the negative developments in judicial independence, attributable to the government's alleged “parallel structure” campaign. The report implies, "We don't believe in your 'parallel structure' story, and we believe this campaign targets judicial independence."

Anyway, if you want to see a document showing the current state of Turkey in 2015 and how it is miles behind where it was in 2010, then have a look at the 2015 “progress” report on Turkey. You will see the report card of a pupil who is doing everything to fail the class.

Having worked on such reports at the European Parliament (EP) for years, I must note that I wouldn't have wanted to be in the shoes of my colleagues who opted to use such phrases as "considerable concern" or "significant setback" in order to stress the gravity of the situation without being offensive. I know what EU employees were thinking while preparing the report; I am not only sorry, but also embarrassed for my country. Turkey does not deserve such a report, just as it does not deserve such a government or president.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 November 2015, Wednesday