In a serious political blow to Turkey, the European Parliament voted on March 13 to recommend a formal suspension of the country’s accession to the EU. The vote, which is a non-binding recommendation, highlights the global concerns over the violation of human rights, media freedom and the rule of law in Turkey and underscores the need for a concerted effort to defend these.

The vote highlights the parliament’s frustration with Turkey’s slow progress to make the requisite improvements to human rights, media freedom and the rule of law.

The European Parliament vote followed the presentation of the report by Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri at the end of her five-year term. In her report, Piri has recommended re-negotiation of the Customs union with Turkey, which was initiated in 1995. She acknowledges in her report that ending the accession process would adversely impact the civil society in the country.

“I realize that stopping the accession talks is not a step which will help Turkey’s democrats. For that, the EU leaders must use all possible tools to exert more pressure on the Turkish government. The Parliament, therefore, calls for dedicated funds to be made available to support civil society, journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey. In addition, modernizing the customs union must remain conditional on clear improvements in the field of human rights. And more efforts must be put into people-to-people exchange programmes”, Piri said in her statement to the European Parliament.

Following the presentation of her draft report in November 2018, Piri stated that the European Council was also to blame for not engaging in a robust enough dialogue with Turkey over its human rights abuses, stating that the Council had “not used past opportunities to engage the Turkish regime in serious talks about democracy and rule of law by refusing to open the relevant negotiating chapters, as proposed several times by the European Parliament.”

The accession process was opened for Turkey in 2005 with slow progress being made on meeting the requisites of the 35 separate chapters before full accession is granted.  So far, only chapter 25 on Science and Research has reached the point of closure and satisfactory conclusion of negotiations.

“We understand the frustration of the Members of the European Parliament with Turkey’s failure to comply with such issues as the recommendations of the Venice Commission report of 2017 which advised, among other things, that the emergency decrees which shuttered 53 newspapers and 170 media organisations in total be lifted at the end of the state of emergency. We hope that Turkey will heed this development and make serious efforts to restore freedom of the media and rule of law”, IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford said.

An excerpt of the full statement of the European Parliament follows:

The European Parliament remains seriously concerned about Turkey’s poor track record in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption, as well as its all-powerful presidential system.

In a resolution adopted on Wednesday by 370 votes in favour, 109 against with 143 abstentions, MEPs welcome Turkey’s decision, last year, to lift the state of emergency introduced after the failed coup attempt in 2016. However, they regret that many of the powers granted to the President and executive following the coup attempt remain in place and continue to limit freedom and basic human rights in the country. MEPs express great concern about the shrinking space for civil society in the country, as a large number of activists, journalists and human rights defenders are currently in jail.

Taking into account the human rights situation and the new Turkish constitution, the European Parliament recommends that the current EU accession negotiations with Turkey be formally suspended.