The European Parliament in Strasbourg has presented a progress report on negotiations for Turkish membership in the EU. The delegates saw some positive developments, but also had plenty of criticism.
Despite a number of critical points, the progress report approved this Wednesday (12.03.2014) by the European Parliament was mainly positive. Though the parliament declared itself "deeply concerned" about the "latest developments" in Turkey, and the "suspected cases of top-level corruption," the report repeatedly noted progress in Turkey's reform process and underscored the strategic importance of the country for European economic and energy policy.
The report was presented by Dutch parliamentarian Ria Oomen-Ruijten, rapporteur for Turkish affairs. Its repeated praise for the economic development is probably why Germany's socialist Left party accused Oomen-Ruijten of being "close to the Erdogan government." The pressure of dramatic events in Turkey has clearly caused many delegates, including European Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Füle, to strike a much more critical tone.
Oomen-Ruijten also expressed her concerns about current developments in Turkey. "It began with events at Gezi Park," the conservative politician said, before reminding the Turkish government that it had agreed to maintain the rule of law in the country.
That, she said, included establishing an independent judiciary.
But despite these criticisms, she stressed that it was important to remember that "Turkey is a strategic partner in a region where we are seeing a lot of turbulence at the moment."
Criticism from the Commission
Füle's criticism was much clearer, demanding that the EU must "change the way we work together" with Turkey. In other words, the cooperation has to be closer before new laws are conceived or drawn up - that, according to Füle, is the only way the EU could remain a standard for reforms in Turkey.
The EU Commission is hoping to create a kind of pre-emptive control of bills working their way through the Turkish parliament, and Füle promised that this plan would be forwarded to Turkey in the next few weeks.
He expressly warned against the adoption of laws that "limit the function of the judiciary and the freedom of expression."
Nevertheless, Füle, too, sees positive developments. After a three-year break, the EU last year resumed accession talks with Turkey, opening the chapter on regional policy. On top of that, he welcomed the fact that a readmission agreement for refugees had been signed, and dialogue for loosening visa regulations had been taken up.
Journalists in prison
Last November, Germany's former foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, described the beginning of a new chapter of talks with Turkey as "the right signal at the right time."
But now, Westerwelle's party colleague in the European Parliament, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, delivered a warning to Turkey:
"We want to break off talks until Turkey has seen reason and begun to respect the freedoms of its citizens as well as the independence of the judiciary."
Lambsdorff was particularly scathing on the subject of press freedom: "There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in China or Iran," he said.