Turkey urged to resume talks with rebels, lift media curbs
BRUSSELS: The European Commission urged EU candidate Turkey yesterday to lift restrictions on media freedom, respect human rights and relaunch peace talks with Kurdish militants in the violence-racked southeast of the country. In its annual progress report on Turkey, whose decade-long accession talks with the European Union have largely stalled, the Commission also noted with concern President Tayyip Erdogan’s push for a constitutional overhaul that would give him much greater powers.
But the EU executive’s criticisms were cloaked in diplomatic language, reflecting the political sensitivity of dealing with a large, strategically important country whose cooperation Brussels sorely needs in tackling Europe’s migrant crisis. “Turkey needs to move because there are many areas where they need to deal with basic principles, the fundamentals,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn told the European Parliament, referring to human rights and freedom of expression. The Commission report comes at a difficult time for Turkey, where fighting has resumed between security forces and militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after the collapse of a ceasefire. Turks have also just handed Erdogan’s AK Party, in power since 2002, a further four years in power in a Nov 1 election that saw a sharp rise in social and political tensions. “The Commission hopes to see an end to the escalating violence in Turkey and the return to negotiations on a lasting solution on the Kurdish issue,” said Hahn, an Austrian politician from the centre-right.
As Hahn spoke in Brussels, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told state broadcaster TRT his new government would pursue major economic, social and judicial reforms in the next six months, without giving details. He also called for an executive presidential system. Erdogan’s critics say his push for a stronger presidency in a country where the head of state has mainly played a more ceremonial role is evidence of his growing authoritarianism.
The EU criticism of Turkey and of Erdogan, who served as prime minister for a decade before moving to the presidential palace, has been relatively muted due to the migrant crisis. The progress report, whose publication was delayed until after the election to avoid upsetting Erdogan and the mildly Islamist AK Party, praised Turkey for sheltering millions of refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Syria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Istanbul before the vote, says there can be no solution to the migration crisis without Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria and Iraq.
The Commission is negotiating a deal for Turkey to absorb more Syrian refugees in return for easier visa access to the EU, cash and an acceleration of membership talks. As well as Turkey, the Balkan countries of Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo are all seeking membership of the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc. But admitting Turkey, a mainly Muslim nation of 75 million people, has always been much more controversial. — Reuters