Dünya Executive - - OVERVIEW -

Turkey is moving rapidly away from the path of European Union membership, the top EU official in charge of negotiatio­ns said last week, as Brussels delivered its harshest criticism yet of what it sees as Ankara’s shift oward authoritar­ianism. While couched in diplomatic language, the European Commission’s annual report on Turkey’s progress toward membership blamed Ankara for a broad, collective and disproport­ionate crackdown after a failed 2016 coup attempt. It warned that years of progress toward European Union standards in human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law were being reversed and that Turkey had seen a weakening of local democracy as presidenti­al powers increased. Turkey “continues to take huge strides away from the EU, in particular in the areas of rule of law and fundamenta­l rights,” European Commission­er Johannes Hahn, who oversees EU membership bids, told a news conference after publishing the report. “The Commission has repeatedly called on Turkey to reverse this negative trend as a matter of priority and makes very clear the recommenda­tions on this in today’s report.”

In response, Turkey said it was not being treated fairly or objectivel­y by the EU, and added that despite the report its goal was still to join the bloc. “Turkey isn’t the one moving away from the European Union. The side that is not objective and is, unfortunat­ely, biased and unfair, is the EU,” Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said, adding that positive elements in the report did not mask the bloc’s unfairness toward Turkey.

“Despite this, we have not abandoned our European Union goal, and we have no intention to do so going forward,” he added after a cabinet meeting. Ankara regularly rejects EU criticism of its human rights record and accuses Brussels of applying “double standards” in its approach to Turkey, a large, mainly Muslim nation of 80 million people located in a geopolitic­ally volatile region.

The report marks a new low point in EU-Turkey relations after the promise of Turkish political and economic reforms a decade ago. It bodes poorly for Ankara’s hopes of negotiatin­g an EU free-trade deal and visa-free travel for Turks to the bloc.

Turkey began talks to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. While a series of factors slowed negotiatio­ns, notably the Cyprus issue and resistance in Germany and France to Turkish membership, since 2016 membership talks have all but collapsed.

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