EU Commission: Turkey’s membership hopes at an all-time low

Turkey will receive the most damning evaluation yet of its European Union accession hopes, more than a decade after it launched its bid to join the bloc, according to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW) on Sunday.

The European Commission will on Tuesday warn that Turkey is taking “major steps” in the wrong direction when it publishes its latest progress report on prospective EU member states, warning that years of progress are being lost.

According to the report, the first excerpts of which were published Sunday by German weekly Welt am Sonntag, Ankara has “suffered serious relapses in the areas of justice, rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom of expression.”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 256 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 197 were under arrest pending trial while only 58 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The commission will ultimately conclude that there is no basis for advancing membership talks with Ankara, effectively keeping talks on hold. “There is massive backsliding away from the European Union,” one EU official told the Reuters news agency, which also confirmed the contents of the upcoming country report.

The draft report also states that under the current circumstances, there are no plans to open new accession negotiation chapters with Turkey, adding that “above all, Turkey needs to reverse the current negative trend in the rule of law and fundamental rights” and “the weakening of an effective separation of powers in the political system should be addressed.”

Despite the two sides drifting apart, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated last month that he remains committed to working towards EU accession.

The commission is slated to release its annual findings of how aspiring EU members are bringing their standards and values in line with the rest of the bloc on Tuesday in Strasbourg.

The EU will also tell Turkey that lifting its state of emergency is a requirement to any future progress in its accession talks. The Erdoğan government imposed emergency rule following the controversial military coup on July 15, 2016. The decree has curtailed the Turkish Parliament’s legislative powers and encroached on civil and political rights. Erdoğan maintains that the state of emergency and sweeping purges are necessary to stem threats to the country’s national security.

Despite its harsh criticisms, the EU will nevertheless state that it continues to see Turkey as a “key partner” in several policy areas, above all when it comes to migration. The two sides negotiated a landmark refugee deal two years that has seen Turkey agree to host some 3.5 million Syrian migrants, preventing them from crossing into Europe, in exchange for some €6 billion ($7.4 billion) in EU financial aid and the promise of visa freedom for Turks traveling to Europe.

“Cooperation with the EU on migration continues to produce concrete and remarkable results in reducing illegal and dangerous crossings and saving lives in the Mediterranean,” the report states.

Turkey will also win praise from Brussels for its “functioning market economy,” which the report described as “well-advanced.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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