11 November 2015-The European Commission has announced the 2015 Enlargement Package today. Enlargement Strategy Document and Progress Reports on all candidate countries including Turkey, as well as potential candidates have been published. This Progress Report is the 18th report prepared for Turkey since 1998. The EU, which has struggled with multiple crises in the past decade, has tried to resolve the “Greek and the Euro-zone crisis” and to control the irregular migration crisis albeit belatedly in the past year. The refugee crisis is one of the most significant challenges that the EU has faced to this day. Differences between member states have emerged and some states have even overlooked the EU’s founding principles during this period. Furthermore, crises at the international level and different regions within the EU neighbourhood, in particular those in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, had direct consequences on the EU.
The significance of togetherness between Turkey and the EU which face unprecedented challenges in a critical region has emerged once more in the past few months. Past experiences demonstrate that we can overcome challenges with ease when acting in solidarity. More than ever, Turkey-EU relations need to be based on a vision going beyond crisis-management. The common need for a new impetus in Turkey's EU accession process has also become more evident. The conditions of our time require us to act coherently and cohesively, with a strategic understanding.
In fact, the recent high-level contacts with the EU have demonstrated that the existing political will on both sides has been strengthened to further advance Turkey-EU relations and have created a platform conducive to developing all dimensions of our relations.
In addition to making progress in the accession negotiations which is the core of the Turkey-EU common agenda, it has become crucial more than ever for both sides to take decisive and rapid steps regarding the visa liberalisation dialogue, Turkey’s participation in EU summits, modernisation and extension of the Customs Union, close cooperation in strategic areas such as energy, and the management of irregular migration.
This report on Turkey, which is the first evaluation of the new Commission, has a different approach when compared with the past reports. According to the new approach, besides developments in the past year, the candidate countries’ level of overall alignment with the EU acquis in all areas have been assessed in the reports. Turkey had recommended to the European Commission number of times that the progress reports to be more comprehensive and also be reflective of reforms carried out in the previous years. Turkey welcomes that this year’s progress report has been prepared in the light of this recommendation.
Progress reports by definition are critical and provide candidate countries with the opportunity to reflect on their current conditions. As has been the case every year, objective and reasonable criticisms will be noted carefully. Turkey will make use of the report as a constructive element in making progress in Turkey's EU accession and reform processes. However, those criticisms which we do not agree and found to be unfair will be brought to the attention of the Commission.
Regarding political criteria, while reforms made in the last years have been evaluated as positive, criticisms have focused on the areas of the rule of law, the judicial system and the freedoms of expression, assembly and the media. Some of the comments in the report do not duly reflect Turkey’s reforms on these fields and are also unfair and excessive. Besides, such comments overlook the balance between freedom and security which is a must for democracies where rule of law prevails. Assessments and comments based on generalisations on cases for which the judicial proceedings are on-going, primarily contradict the principle of the independence of the judiciary. Turkey has adopted six Judicial Reform Packages in the past years in order to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and freedom of expression. The Judicial Reform Strategy updated this year is a clear indicator that reforms in these fields will continue. Furthermore, the comments regarding the ever first directly-elected President’s use of powers conferred by the Constitution are unacceptable.
In some parts of the report there are references to the parallel structure. Turkey will continue with determination its fight against this structure, which threatens national security, impairs public order, damages the internal independence of judiciary and conducts domestic and international illegal activities under the disguise of legality. In this respect, Turkey expects the EU to read the realities regarding the parallel structure correctly and demonstrate the necessary sensitivity regarding this illegal structure and its activities.
Turkey is determined to continue reforms in the area of political rights, as well as, economic, social and cultural rights. The general elections held on 1 November 2015 have once again demonstrated the deep rootedness of the culture of democracy in Turkey. The general elections, with nearly 90% voter turnout, were held in a safe environment and the results of the elections reflected the will of the Turkish citizens. In the forthcoming period, Turkey will continue to take steps necessary to achieve higher standards in the areas of fundamental rights and rule of law, under the guidance of European and international human rights mechanisms in which Turkey participates.
While it is significant that the report has underlined that the PKK is a terrorist organisation, it appears that the decisive steps taken by Turkey in its fight against the PKK, DHKP-C, Da’esh and other terrorist organisations without discrimination have not been comprehended well enough by the EU. The primary duty of the state in fight against terrorism, which is a crime against humanity, is to protect the lives of its citizens. The report also underlines that Turkey is also a member of the international coalition against Da’esh.
Furthermore, the report also emphasizes the pressure created by the influx of migrants and underlines the unprecedented efforts of Turkey in providing humanitarian aid for more than two million Syrians.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, the report has referred to Turkey's support for ongoing negotiations between the two parties on the island under the auspices of the United Nations. However, at a time when efforts for a comprehensive settlement have intensified, the EU continues to present a biased point of view. Turkey supports a comprehensive settlement based on political equality and bi-zonality. The EU will be able to contribute to a comprehensive settlement if it abandons its biased point of view. The EU should take into account the realities of the island and should be impartial and encouraging for a settlement. This is necessary for sake of EU’s own consistency and credibility.
Turkey continues to be decisively committed to good neighbourly relations. Exploratory talks could not be held due to the internal political developments in Greece even though Turkey has repeatedly proposed a date. Apparently, there has not been a lack of will on Turkish side. Turkey wishes to find comprehensive and lasting solutions to all Aegean issues through peaceful means of parties’ mutual choice including those stipulated in the UN Charter as settlement of disputes and on the basis of equity and makes sincere efforts in this regard.
With regard to the economic criteria, the report indicates that there is an increasingly high level of commercial and economic integration between Turkey and the EU. It also underlines that Turkey has a functioning market economy; expresses Turkey’s high capacity to deal with competitive pressure and market forces despite some macroeconomic imbalances and recommends accelerating the structural reforms for long-term growth.
The report reflects the fact that Turkey, which has aligned its legislation with the EU acquis since the completion of the Customs Union, has achieved alignment with EU standards in many areas. With respect to the alignment with the acquis in the past year, the European Commission has confirmed that Turkey has achieved various levels of progress in 27 Chapters out of 33. The political will to be demonstrated by the EU in the forthcoming period regarding the opening of new chapters to negotiations will give further impetus for Turkey's efforts to align with the EU acquis.
Turkey's EU vocation is the result of a permanent and strategic approach regardless of cyclical issues. This process strengthens the European Project shaped over several centuries which serves to the stability, welfare and peace of the wider region. Turkey will decisively continue the reform process through mechanisms such as the Reform Monitoring Group in the forthcoming period, aiming at further strengthening the democratization and modernisation processes of the country while increasing the living standards of our citizens in all areas.