Turkey - EU relations


Turkey’s EU minister lashes out at EU foreign policy chief

Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs said on Monday the bloc did not have a plan to fight what he called terrorism and defended his country’s right to send its troops into neighbouring Syria to fight groups that he said were threatening Turkish security.

Turkish troops and their Syrian Islamist allies captured the centre of the Syrian town of Afrin on Sunday after a two-month offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, to eject Syrian Kurdish forces from the northwestern district. 

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday called on Turkey to ensure that fighting eases in Syria. 

"I am worried about this," she told reporters in Brussels. International efforts in Syria are supposed to be "aiming at de-escalating the military activities and not escalating them," she said. 

Turkish EU Minister Ömer Çelik said the union had got it all wrong. “The European Union has taken a wrong stance regarding Turkey’s fight against terrorism in Afrin since the very beginning. The EU takes a critical rather than a supportive approach,” he said in a thread of Twitter messages.

Avrupa Birliği, Türkiye’nin Afrin’deki terörle mücadelesi hakkında baştan beri yanlış bir tutum içinde. Destek vermek yerine, sadece eleştirmekle uğraşıyorlar.

“EU says don’t add conflict to conflicts, military activity shouldn’t be increased. Op.OliveBranch is not carried out to add conflict to conflicts but to end the atrocities of terrorism. Those who have no concrete recommendation to fight terror are criticising fight against terror,” he said.

“If Turkey were not to carry out an effective fight against terrorism with Operation Olive Branch, would the EU have a plan to fight against terrorist organisations which want to permanently establish areas of authority near our borders? We see that there is no such plan.”

Turkey says the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), which controlled Afrin, and are still in control of much of northeastern Syria, as terrorist organisations and part and parcel of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years. 

The EU and the United State recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but not the PYD and YPG. The Syrian Kurdish groups deny any direct link to the PKK, but all three share a common ideology and the same symbolic leader, Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in Turkey since 1999.

“Those who do not consider PKK to be a terrorist organisation because it has changed its name in Syria, think that the fight against terrorism is simply a fight against nameplates,” Çelik said. Source

Turkish PM blasts EU parliament motion on Afrin op

17 March 2018

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on March 17 described a European Parliament motion against Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria’s Afrin as an “eclipse of reason”. 

The Turkish premier’s remarks came at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) 6th provincial congress in the Küçükcekmece district of Istanbul. 

“It is understood that the European Parliament is in a state of eclipse of reason. They can’t explain why they are uncomfortable with Turkey’s fight against terrorism, neither to us nor to the world,” Yıldırım said. 

On March 15, the European Parliament drafted a joint motion calling on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Syria's Afrin region. Source

Spending on Turkey has failed to address key democratic, media problems: EU watchdog

14 March 2018

European Union funding to help Turkey’s stalled membership bid has “barely addressed” key problems with democracy and the media, the bloc’s spending watchdog has said.

EU financial assistance planned for Turkey from 2007 until 2020 through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance amounts to over 9 billion euros ($11 billion), the European Court of Auditors said in a March 13 statement.

It focused on the priority sectors of the rule of law, governance and human resources (education, employment and social policies), to which 3.8 billion euros ($4.7 billion) had been allocated.

But the watchdog slammed the European Commission for failing to attach conditions to the funds.

“EU financial assistance for Turkey had only limited effect,” the report stated. “The funds spent have barely addressed a number of fundamental needs.”

The watchdog said the results of the spending “may not be sustainable because of difficulties in spending the funds and backsliding on reforms.”

Turkish ambitions to join the EU date back over half a century but accession talks started in October 2005, after which Brussels started channeling so-called pre-accession funds to Ankara.

Brussels has allocated 4.5 billion euros ($55.7 billion) for Ankara to prepare the country for membership in its current multi-year budget for 2014-2020. From 2007-2013 it allocated 4.6 billion euros ($56.9 billion).

The court report author Bettina Jakobsen said that while the overall program was “well designed,” funding had been particularly ineffective when it came to the independence of the judicial system, fighting corruption and media freedom.

These are “areas where critical reforms in Turkey are overdue,” she said, adding that EU funding should target them in future.

Jakobsen said the European Commission “rarely used the possibility of taking over” their management from Turkey when the money did not achieve the right results.

“From 2018 onwards, the Commission should better target funding for Turkey in areas where reforms are overdue and necessary for credible progress towards EU accession,” she said.

At the Turkish end, the ECA blamed delays on a lack of the right staff in key ministries and excessive turnover at the contracts unit which manages most EU funds.

She complained about “a lack of political will” by Turkish authorities.

The ECA report will be sent to the European Parliament’s budget control committee.

Ties between Turkey and the EU ties have been strained of late, with Brussels criticizing Turkey over rights and media freedom in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt. More than 140,000 people have been suspended or sacked in Turkey over alleged links to coup plotters.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out last year Turkey’s EU membership “for the foreseeable future.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the measures are necessary to counter the multiple security threats Turkey faces, while calling on the EU to open chapters of negotiations in the accession process.

The country’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik said in January that Turkey would reject any offer of “partnership” with the European Union that falls short of membership, warning that the current impasse gave Turkey no reason to maintain its migrant deal with the bloc. Source

Turkish Tensions With Cyprus Cause EU to Rethink Erdogan Summit

The European Union threatened to cancel a summit with Turkey next month because of Turkish tensions with Cyprus over energy exploration, the latest sign of deteriorating relations between Ankara and EU capitals.

EU President Donald Tusk lashed out at Turkey after its navy prevented drilling by Italy-based Eni SpA in waters that are part of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, forcing the company to relocate its vessel. Earlier this month, a Turkish navy ship rammed a Greek coast-guard vessel off Aegean islets over which Ankara claims sovereignty.

“These actions contradict Turkey’s commitment to good neighborly relations,” Tusk told reporters in Brussels on Friday after an EU summit. Scheduled to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, Tusk said EU national government heads would decide at a gathering several days beforehand whether “the conditions are there to hold a leaders’ meeting with Turkey.”

Relations between the EU and Turkey have been deteriorating since a mid-2016 failed coup attempt against Erdogan that prompted him to unleash a widespread crackdown on political opponents. The acrimony has all but halted negotiations on a bid for EU membership by Turkey, which has been seeking to join the bloc since the 1980s and began accession talks in 2005.

At the same time, Turkey’s central roles in preventing a renewed flood of Middle Eastern refugees into the EU via Greece and in fighting terrorism have left European leaders seeking ways to bring about a detente. The scheduled Varna meeting, which is also due to include European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, represents an attempt to improve ties.

“The time has come to send a very clear message to Turkey,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters in Brussels. “EU-Turkey relations cannot progress with constant violations of sovereign rights of EU member states.” Source

EU: Release Altans and Ilıcak without delay.

An EU spokesperson spoke to Ahval about the life sentences handed by a Turkish court to six journalists this month, including the Altan brothers and Nazli Ilıcak.

"While we recognise Turkey’s need to address swift and proportionate action after the attempted coup in 2016, the measures now go well beyond those initially foreseen, including on media freedom," said the spokesperson.

The EU comments on the life sentences came 10 days after the verdicts were announced by the court.

A Turkish court gave life sentences to the six, including former newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and economist Mehmet Altan, and the well-known journalist Nazli Ilıcak, after convicting them for being "the media wing" of the Gülenists, an Islamist sect the government says carried out the failed July 2016 coup attempt. 

"The court decision to imprison journalists for life and the lack of implementation of the Constitutional Court’s ruling further increases the EU’s serious concerns relating to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression in Turkey," said the EU spokesperson.

"The European Union expects the Turkish authorities to ensure that the Constitutional Court decision of 11 January 2018 is implemented and that the journalists are released without delay."

In early January the Turkish Constitutional Court ordered the release on human rights grounds of two journalists, Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, who have been imprisoned since last July awaiting trial for membership of the Gülenists' alleged terrorist organisation.

However, local courts in Istanbul defied the ruling, claiming that allowing their release would be “illegal”.

Local courts also claimed that the Constitutional Court had shown bias and exceeded its authority in making its ruling.

This defiance  by the local courts marked a first in Turkish legal history.

The EU Spokesperson also told Ahval that "concrete and lasting improvements in the area of rule of law and fundamental freedoms remain essential to the prospects of EU-Turkey relations."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists   (CPJ) statistics, despite releasing some journalists in 2017, Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer for the second consecutive year, with 73 journalists behind bars, compared with 81 in 2016. 


No EU visa-free travel for Turkey until terror laws relaxed - Belgium

Belgium’s foreign minister has said that Turkey will not be given a visa-free deal by the European Union until it reforms its terror legislation, British conservative newspaper the Daily Express said .

"If it is possible to align the legislation with the values of the European Union, it will be possible to make some progress,” it quoted Didier Reynders as saying.

"The link is this - a real evolution in Turkey in the legislation on terrorism and the possibility to move on the visas."

Earlier this month, Turkey sent documents it said proved that it had met the criteria for visa-free travel in the Schengen zone to Brussels. However, the criteria includes human rights criteria that EU members may not agree that Turkey has met.

"Turkey understands that in principle Europe is the most reliable and predictable neighbour they have, and they are well advised to have a good relationship,” Johannes Hahn, the EU's top enlargement official, said.

"There are some signals but when it comes to issues of rule of law, the situation is still not satisfactory." Source