By Menekse Tokyay
The European Commission (EC) presented its annual Progress Report on Turkey on Wednesday (October 12th), arriving at positive and negative conclusions regarding Turkey’s stalled EU accession process.
On the political front, the EC welcomed the progress made following the September 2010 constitutional amendments, especially ensuring civilian oversight of the military as well as strengthening an independent judiciary.
Still, further judicial reform is needed, the report says, citing the ongoing Ergenekon trial, the KCK case, and a backlog of criminal cases. While the Ergenekon trial is considered an opportunity to reinforce democracy, “serious concerns” over the conduct of investigations, judicial proceedings, and the criminal procedures threaten its legitimacy.
Another important concern of the Commission is the high number of violations of freedom of expression and freedom of press resulting in widespread self-censorship in the media.
“The imprisonment of journalists, and the confiscation of an unpublished manuscript in connection with the Ergenekon investigation, fuelled these concerns,” the report says.
Emiliano Alessandri, a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, told SETimes that the report is bolder than in the past in pointing out areas of serious lack of progress, or even regression, such as freedom of expression.
In the report, the Commission invites authorities to accelerate the process of drafting a new civilian constitution, although it warns that the “prevailing political climate lacks an adequate dialogue and spirit of compromise between political parties”.
“A new constitution would cement the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities and address long-standing problems, including the Kurdish issue,” the report underlines.
Cyprus was deemed to be the most critical part of the report. Turkey’s support for negotiations between the leaders of the two communities is welcomed and encouraged to further a peace settlement on the island.
However, Turkey is criticised for not fulfilling its obligations under the Additional Protocol by extending the Association Agreements to Cyprus and removing all obstacles to the free movement of goods with that country.
The EU notes that Turkey has performed very well in its foreign policy in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus, but its relations with Israel and Cyprus are criticised in the report.
“Most importantly, I believe the European Commission has come to terms with the fact that Turkey is literally becoming a soft power in its region, and that this does not necessarily contradict the European interests,” Professor Ayhan Kaya of the European Institute at Bilgi University told SETimes.
“Turkey is actually reminding EU circles that it is now the most efficient agent of the ‘transformative effect of the EU’, which the EU itself has forgotten for the last decade,” he said.
“Turkey’s more independent foreign policy could make the strategic partnership alternative look more attractive to Ankara than full membership,” Alessandri said.
In a nutshell, “The European Commission, as a stakeholder in the policy of enlargement, has done all it could in this report to avoid unnecessary criticism, while pointing out areas where alignment with the EU remains insufficient,” Alessandri added.