- The EP’s vote is a recommendation to the EU Council and Commission
- Human rights advocate Osman Kavala exemplifies runaway repression in Turkey
On March 13, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recommending to the EU Commission and Council to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey.
Turkey has been negotiating to join the European Union since 2005. However, negotiations have progressed very slowly since then.
As such, Parliament’s recommendation to suspend negotiations will have no effect unless the European Commission or the EU Council take it up, which seems unlikely.
In a response to the European Parliament’s report, the representative of the EU Council stated that “accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill” anyway, so that a formal suspension would make little difference. EU Commissioner Hahn, who oversees the negotiations with Turkey, was also restrained in his response: ”Turkey is also, and will remain, our neighbour and a partner of strategic importance for the European Union, with whom we work closely on areas such as energy, counterterrorism, trade and migration. Turkey is a key player in regions that are of strategic interest for the European Union.”
On the other hand, Renate Sommer MEP, speaking for Parliament’s main political group, the EPP, argued for a complete end to negotiations, rather than a mere suspension. Others argued to keep the process alive, in the hope for better days.
While the accession process may be effectively frozen, a suspension of talks would have financial consequences. According to rapporteur Kati Piri, “The impact of suspending talks in terms of finances would be several hundred million euros a year, which go with pre-accession funds to Turkey. The Parliament asks that if the suspension comes into force to use this money to directly fund civil society in Turkey.”
The EU has allocated €4.5 billion for the period 2014-2020 to helping Turkey prepare for EU accession. Parliament was incensed to find EU funds had financed the acquisition by the Turkish government of Cobra II armoured surveillance vehicles. In October 2018, Parliament had already blocked an amount of €70 million in EU aid.
In a scathing response to the resolution, the Turkish foreign ministry called the European Parliament’s resolution “biased and unfair”, “an exclusionary, discriminatory and populist text which does not reflect reality”.
The Foreign Ministry also reacted to a passing reference to the 2015 commemorative resolution on the Armenian genocide: “the unfortunate assessment of 15 April 2015 of the European Parliament adopted on 1915 events which is based on one-sided Armenian narratives, reflects the biased and political character of this report”.
Why suspend negotiations now?
The Parliament’s decision was motivated overwhelmingly by the severe repression which the Turkish government has imposed on Turkish society since the failed coup of July 15, 2016. The crackdown that followed is generally seen as having gone well beyond the search for the plotters, and was used as an opportunity to neutralize a wide range of legitimate critics and opponents.
Rapporteur Kati Piri thus opened her speech with the case of Osman Kavala, who for decades has promoted awareness of, and tolerance towards minorities in Turkey, including the Armenian minority.
“Sitting in a cell for 17 months without knowing what you are being accused of – that is reality in today’s Turkey. Osman Kavala, a leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, and one of the many victims of President Erdoğan’s witch-hunt against his critics, was arrested in October 2017. Osman and 15 others heard the charges against them last week. They are being held responsible for an attempt to overthrow the government and are facing life imprisonment without parole if found guilty. […] The evidence against Kavala: in some intercepted calls, he is offering to lend a plastic folding table and in another call, he agrees to send some packages of fruit juice and milk. The indictment includes no evidence of Osman or any of the others planning the protest, let alone an uprising. […] This is the level to which Turkey’s democracy has sunk.”
The Parliament’s resolution enumerates serious human rights violations by the Turkish authorities, including the mass arrests and detentions that followed the coup, the practice of solitary confinement, the harrassment and kidnapping of alleged conspirators abroad, the mass dismissal of government employees, the harrassment and prosecutions of lawyers and judges and other means to influence or control the judicial system, the large-scale infringements of media freedom, the repression of freedom of speech and of association, the treatment of minorities, the arrest of opposition members of Parliament and other opposition figures, the repression in the Kurdish South-East of the country, and much more.
Parliament concerns also include aspects of Turkish foreign policy. It criticises in particular the treatment of Kurdish civilian populations in Afrin by Turkish-backed Syrian FSA troops and calls for Turkey to pull its troops out of Cyprus.
With regards to Armenia, Parliament “calls on Turkey and Armenia to pursue the normalisation of their relations [and] stresses that the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border could lead to improved relations, with particular reference to cross-border cooperation and economic integration”