EU says Turkey 'backsliding' on democracy, Ankara disagrees

EU Commission report finds Ankara moving 'further away' from European Union, but Turkey says it is 'a part of Europe'.

    While Ankara has faced several years of harsh Commission reports, none have been so critical across so many areas [Osman Orsal/Reuters]
    While Ankara has faced several years of harsh Commission reports, none have been so critical across so many areas [Osman Orsal/Reuters]

    Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union are fading, the bloc's executive has said, noting worse conditions in courts, prisons and the economy, but Ankara rejected the criticisms as "unfair" and "disproportionate".

    Still considered a security ally, Turkey's candidacy to join the world's largest trading group is frozen because of "further serious backsliding" on rights, the judiciary and economic policy, the EU Commission said in its annual progress report on Wednesday.

    A crackdown following a failed coup in July 2016, a shift to a powerful presidential system with few checks and balances, and closer ties with Russia have alarmed Western leaders and financial markets alike, sending the value of the lira tumbling.

    "Turkey has continued to move further away from the European Union," the Commission said in its report on Ankara's progress towards membership, a path formally undertaken in 2005.

    "Negotiations have ... effectively come to a standstill," the Commission added of Turkey.

    Turkey's government, which has said it is a victim of anti-Muslim sentiment in the EU and justified crackdowns on the threat from "terrorists" at home and abroad, chafed at the report.

    "It is not possible for us to accept the unfair and disproportionate criticisms in the report," Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci told a news conference in Ankara.

    "The statements claiming that Turkey is moving away from European values are inconsistent and invalid ... Turkey is a part of Europe. Turkey is Europe,” he added.

    'Serious backsliding'

    While Ankara has faced several years of harsh Commission reports, none have been so critical across so many areas.

    The bloc's executive said free speech and freedom to protest were being curtailed, local democracy was at risk, and the government had harmed financial markets.

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    "Serious backsliding continued in the Turkish economy, leading to deeper concerns over the functioning of the country's market economy," it said.

    Kaymakci also said, however, that Ankara would carefully note constructive criticism, but expects European allies to support its fight against security threats.

    The EU relies on Turkey to house some 3.6 million Syrians fleeing civil war, many of whom would otherwise seek refuge in Europe. The Commission applauded Ankara for reducing the number of people trying to cross into Greece on makeshift vessels.

    'Overcrowded prisons'

    Turkey's biggest foreign investor and trading partner, the EU wants to see a return to the reforms of Erdogan's first years in power as prime minister from 2003 that made it an important emerging economy.

    But the Commission said in its report that even with the lifting of a state of emergency in 2018 following the 2016 failed coup, many of its "repressive elements" became law.

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    As of December last year, 57,000 people were in prison without indictment or pending trial, more than a fifth of all those incarcerated.

    "There is overcrowding and conditions are deteriorating," the report said.

    The Commission said it was a matter of serious concern that a mayoral vote in Istanbul in March won by the opposition was annulled and rescheduled for June 23.

    The Commission said that went "against the very core of a democratic electoral process - that is to ensure that the will of the people prevails."

    SOURCE: News agencies