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EU Warns of Democratic Backsliding in Turkey

In what may be one of its most critical annual reports on Turkey to date, the EU warns the candidate country to beware of democratic backsliding, citing its worrying track record with regard to rule of law and rights and freedoms. It also highlights heated foreign policy disagreements.
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On October 19, the European Commission adopted its 2021 Enlargement Package, also releasing its annual report on Turkey.

In the report, the EU said that Turkey’s bid to join the EU has come to a “standstill” due to the latter’s serious democratic shortfalls, contested foreign policy decisions, and deteriorating adherence to rule of law.

“There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place,” the report reads.

The Commission noted the near total absence of checks and balances under the current presidential system, a reality that grants the executive sweeping powers.

“The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. The constitutional architecture continued to centralise powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary,” the report went on.

The Commission highlighted that the lack of an effective mechanism to check presidential powers meant that elections are the most immediate, if not only source of democratic accountability.

The report also mentioned the pressure placed on opposition by Turkish President Erdogan.

“Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to weakening political pluralism in Turkey,” it reads, noting that the independence of state institutions is also under fire as, “[d]uring the report period, the President dismissed the governor of the Central Bank twice.”

Foreign policy disagreements between Brussels and Ankara were also emphasized.

“The situation in the south-east remained very worrying. The [Turkish] government carried out domestic and cross-border security and military operations in Iraq and Syria,” the report notes, reminding Ankara that the EU Council extended the duration of the existing framework for restrictive measures in response to Turkey’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The report also mentions the dire state of human and fundamental rights in Turkey, its failing fight against corruption and organised crime, and politicization of the judiciary system in the country.

“Turkey’s judicial system is at an early stage of preparation. The serious backsliding observed since 2016 continued. Concerns remained, in particular over the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and undue pressure on judges and prosecutors,” it reads.

Turkey has been a candidate for accession to the EU for over 16 years. Despite early success in membership negotiations, Turkey’s bid to join the bloc has been all but suspended by the EU due to a series of foreign policy crises and the ever increasing authoritarian policies of President Erdogan and his government.

The latest report is accepted by experts and practitioners as the most critical to date, but Turkey’s current government still dismissed and downplayed the scathing critique.

“At a time when we tried to establish a positive political agenda with the EU and revived our high-level dialogue, a Turkey Report was published and unfortunately, the responsibilities towards the candidate country Turkey were ignored and a double-standard approach was displayed in relations with our country,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry responded in a press note.