Turkish gov’t furious over harshest report ever released by EU on Turkey

The Turkish government led Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is furious over a report released on Tuesday by the European Commission that is the most critical in the history of Turkey-European Union relations and that refrains from labeling the pacifist Gülen movement as a “terrorist group.”

The EU report referred to the movement 18 times as the “Gülen movement.”

“It’s is extremely wrong to mention FETÖ as an innocent non-governmental organization,” Ömer Çelik, Turkey’s EU minister, told a news conference in the Ankara. His remarks came a day after the European Commission released its report on the state of Turkey’s EU accession bid, after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus since the last report.

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term used by the Turkish government and President Erdoğan for the Gülen movement.

Çelik also accused the EU of being biased and not objective towards Turkey. “Leaving Turkey’s member country perspective aside and only focusing on cooperation on other issues, going back to neighborhood policy, is not acceptable,” Çelik said.

Çelik charged that the EU report fails to present fair, objective, criticism with a positive future perspective. “It is a report that has no vision or content, which is far from understanding the intensity, dimensions and perspective of relations, and it also lags behind developments,” he said.

“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 and Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ 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 said after a Cabinet meeting.

Also, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticised the European Commission report on Ankara’s bid to join the EU, by claiming that “certain general allegations, accusations and comments targeting the country are unacceptable.”

“Unfortunately, the European Commission showed that it was once again unwilling to understand the difficulties of the period we are going through,” the ministry said in a statement on the 2018 Turkey Country Report and Enlargement Strategy Paper.

It claimed that the commission was “unable to be objective and balanced” even though “we have explained these issues repeatedly, supported by documentation.”

In the report, the European Commission praised Turkey’s migration policy, economic growth and strengthening regional cooperation but also claimed there was “serious backsliding on the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression.”

The ministry countered the report’s findings by claiming that “Turkey is fighting simultaneously against several terrorist organizations, particularly the PKK, ISIL and FETÖ. In this respect, we think that not mentioning in the report the threat from FETÖ, which cowardly attacked our state, our Parliament and our people, is a critical deficiency.”

“In the report, although Turkey’s legitimate right to take immediate and proportional measures particularly following the July 15 terrorist coup attempt is reiterated, we observe that baseless allegations and accusations taken from obvious circles have also been included,” it claimed.

The statement continues its baseless claims and said that “Turkey continues its transparent cooperation with all related international partners including the European Union with regards to the measures taken in the context of the State of Emergency, firstly for the purpose of protecting its citizens’ democratic rights and freedoms, and conveys clearly the nature, the relevant security threats and legal frameworks of these measures to its addressees. This being the case, certain general allegations, accusations and comments targeting Turkey in the report are unacceptable.”

The ministry also hailed the ongoing military campaign in Syria’s Afrin province as a “counter-terrorism operation aimed at eliminating the terror threat against Turkey and on the basis of the right to self-defense.”

“It has set an example on how to combat terrorism without harming civilians. For success in the fight against terrorism, the international community as a whole, including the EU, has to be consistent vis-a-vis terrorism and refrain from making distinctions among terrorist organizations,” it alleged.

The ministry claimed that “the report is far from understanding the realities of Turkey and thus far from serving its purpose. In addition, it places the unfair interests of its obvious members before a universal concept such as the rule of law and thus negates the EU’s own values.”

The Turkish government regularly rejects EU criticism of its human rights record and accuses Brussels of applying “double standards” in its approach to Turkey. The ministry reiterated that Turkey’s EU membership aspirations remain “a strategic priority, despite all the negativity in the EU’s approach.”

“Turkey is moving rapidly away from the path of European Union membership,” European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, the top EU official in charge of negotiations, said on Tuesday as Brussels delivered its harshest criticism yet of what it sees as Ankara’s shift toward 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 controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

It warned that years of progress toward EU 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,” Hahn told a news conference after publishing the report on Tuesday. “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,” he said.

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.

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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