European Parliament 2016 Report on Turkey

Sibel KARABEL
25 April 2016
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On 14 April 2016, the European Parliament (EP) adopted the European Commission’s 2015 progress report on Turkey. Given the nature of the EP’s resolutions, the report addresses the setbacks during the accession negotiation process and delivers recommendations and explicit warnings accordingly. Prepared by the European Parliament Turkey Rapporteaur Kati Piri, the report was accepted by a vote of  375 in favor, 177 against and 85 abtensions out of 751 Members of Parliament (MEPs). (1) Despite the fact that in legal terms the resolution is non-binding, it holds a highly symbolic value.

 

As a first response, Turkey rejected the report on the grounds that it involves references which defines the 1915 events as genocide. Of particular importance here is that it was precisely this reason why the report of 2014 was rendered obsolete by Turkey. On the other hand, it should be remarked that the first draft on 17 February 2016 contains no reference to the 1915 events. Compared with the amendment proposals to the previous resolutions on Turkey, the recent report has been subject to 545 proposals at committee stage and 47 at general assembly stage, (2) which is quite significant.

 

Highlights from the Report

 

The report consists of five main titles: the state of play in European Union (EU)-Turkey relations, respect for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms; the Kurdish peace process and the situation in the southeast of Turkey; EU-Turkey cooperation on the refugee/migration crisis; progress of the Cyprus reunification talks.(3)

 

As regards EU-Turkey relations, the report expresses concerns over the pace of reforms in Turkey specifically with respect to freedom of expression, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary. As such, the EP, as the representative body of European citizens, points out a backwards shift in the direction of fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria. Yet, recent re-energizing of the Turkey-EU relationship in the form of progress in accession negotiations is seen as a positive development.

 

One of the striking points of the report is its emphasis on the timing of the Commission’s 2015 progress report on Turkey. The EP criticizes the Commission’s delayed delivery of the report after Turkey’s November 2015 elections. To the EP, this move depicts a non-credible picture for the EU in terms of the Union’s norms and values. In addition to this, the Parliament calls for the review of the Commission’s commitment on timing regardless of other concerns. In this sense, the stance the EP adopts clearly reflects the criticisms against the EU over a probable trade off between the refugee crisis and membership criteria. Given the heavy criticisms surrounding this issue, the Parliament would aim at conveying its message through this report.

 

Drawing on this argument, the EP underscores the importance of another relevant topic; the non-negotiable situation of the EU’s principles. Here, the Parliament categorizes the EU-Turkey Action Plan on migration under the banner of a cooperation agenda, yet, differentiates it from the accession negotiation process. Therefore, it might be argued that the Parliament avoids any possible linkage of the refugee crisis to the ongoing negotiation process with Turkey. As a more plausible solution, the EP expects more contribution from member states in terms of burden sharing rather than outsourcing the migration crisis to Turkey.

 

Taken together, these two undertones associated with migration and accession negotiations can be read partly as a response to the wide-spread skeptical coverage of the issue and in part as Parliament’s strong emphasis on the condition ‘sine non qua’ of the Union’s core values.

On the other hand, there exist clear statements in support of Turkey’s collaboration with the EU on the migration crisis. Considered by the EP as a ‘strategic partner’, the EP praises Turkey’s open door policy for Syrian refugees, Turkey’s attempts to harmonize its data with UNHCR, and welcomes the EU-Turkey readmission agreement to be entered into force by June 2016.

 

Particular reference to the need for upgrading the Customs Union which proceeds to the detriment of Turkey might be viewed as a positive development. However, in a way this issue is linked to the ‘Additional Protocol’. The EP states that in order to realize the full potential of the Customs Union, Turkey should implement the Protocol in its entirety. In fact, expanding the coverage of the Customs Union is more of a technical issue rather than a long-standing contentious issue of Additional Protocol.

 

Compared with the previous report on Turkey, recent resolution adopts a more positive tone on the ‘Cyprus problem’. Whilst it is stated that non-settlement of the issue is a hindrance to the development of the EU-Turkey relations, the Cyprus reunification talks and constructive approach of both parties are welcomed.

 

Conclusion

 

In a nutshell, the recent Turkey report features as a typical EP assessment pattern. As such, the report contains criticisms, recommendations as well as positive developments during Turkey’s accession negotiation process. Parallel to this, the jargon of the report is abundant with ‘yes, but’ discourses. On the other hand, as a response to the Commission’s report on Turkey, the EP follows rather less loaded language and more clear expressions on key points.

One of the aspects which makes the report speculative is its reference to the 1915 events as genocide as in last years’ report. Yet, absent in the contents of the Commission’s 2015 report on Turkey, this reference is not the only speculative case in point. The significant number of amendments to the draft of the resolution demonstrates that Turkey still remains as a sophisticated country for the Union.

 

On the other hand, the strong emphasis of the Union’s core values independent from any sort of ‘bargaining’ might be regarded as one of the main messages of the report both conveyed to Turkey and the Commission alike. It should also be considered that the evolving weight of the Parliament incrementally among the bodies of the EU may entail the EP to take a more critical stance.

 

However speculative, it should be born in mind that the report reflects a diversity of European perspective on the internal developments  of Turkey. Further thought shows that as Turkey is still in the phase of accession negotiations, to an extent the report might serve as a re-evaluation of Turkey’s accession process.

 

References:

  1. “Turkey: need of urgent reforms in key areas, say MEPs”, European Parliament Press Release, 14 April 2016, Retrieved: 19 April 2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20160407IPR21789/Turkey-need-of-urgent-reforms-in-key-areas-say-MEPs
  2. Resolution on the 2015 report on Turkey, European Parliament, Retrieved: 19 April 2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?lang=en&reference=2015/2898(RSP)
  3. European Parliament resolution of 14 April 2016 on the 2015 report on Turkey, 14 April 2016, Retrieved: 19 April 2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2016-0133+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

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