Netherlands links updating of customs union with Turkey to compliance with ECtHR rulings

The Dutch senate will soon discuss a bill to revoke the law considering an insult to the leader of a "friend nation" as crime.

The Dutch parliament has voted to make the modernization of the European Union customs union agreement with Turkey conditional on the release of two high-profile prisoners, as ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in a significant step ahead of the 10th Wittenburg Conference, Turkish Minute reported.

On Wednesday Dutch lawmakers approved a motion blocking any update to the customs union with Turkey if Ankara does not comply with ECtHR rulings calling for the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala.

Demirtaş, former co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and also a human rights lawyer, has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges.

Kavala, 66, faced charges that have ranged from espionage and financing protests in 2013 to taking part in a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016. He was arrested in October 2017 and sentenced to life in 2022 for allegedly trying to topple Erdoğan’s government.

In its 2020 ruling on Demirtaş, the ECtHR said his “unjustified” detention pursued the ulterior motive of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate in Turkey.

In the same year the court said in another ruling that Kavala’s “unjustified and extended” detention had the ultimate purpose of reducing him to silence.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers launched an infringement proceeding against Turkey over its treatment of Kavala on February 2, 2022. This could potentially see Ankara expelled from the continent’s leading human rights organization.

Under this proceeding, the ECtHR would establish whether Turkey had violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). If the Strasbourg court ruled that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations under the ECHR, then the Committee of Ministers would decide on the sanctions to be imposed on the country.

The Dutch parliament’s decision sets a stern diplomatic tone as Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan prepares for a visit to the Netherlands. The Wittenburg Conference, which soon will begin in the Dutch town of Wittenburg, serves as an important platform for discussing bilateral issues ranging from trade to security.

During his visit Fidan will meet with his Dutch counterpart, Hanke Bruins Slot, to discuss not only the EU-Turkey customs union but also sensitive regional issues such as the conflicts in Israel-Palestine and Ukraine as well as the dispute in Cyprus.

Kati Piri, a member of the Dutch parliament and former EU rapporteur on Turkey, underlined the condition set out in the motion and tweeted: “No modernization of the customs union with Turkey until the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on the immediate release of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş are implemented.”

Updating the EU’s customs union with Turkey, which was originally established in 1995 and has long been due for modernization, is seen as crucial to improving bilateral trade relations, but it now faces a major obstacle.

Despite the economic benefits identified in an EU Commission impact assessment, negotiations to modernize the customs union have stalled since 2017 due to deteriorating relations.

The Dutch parliament’s latest request is in line with the European Council’s strategy for gradual and conditional engagement with Turkey, which underlines the EU’s willingness to strengthen cooperation if Turkey meets certain human rights conditions.

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