Madam President, as the High Representative and Commissioner Füle are aware, Turkey’s foreign policy is guided by a doctrine called ‘zero problems with neighbours’ but, unfortunately, today Turkey is experiencing problems with almost all its neighbouring countries.
The mounting tensions with Cyprus are of special concern to this House. The Commission has rightfully urged both sides – the Greek Cypriots as well – to show restraint. Turkey’s role in the region is important and could be a great vehicle for more intensive cooperation between Turkey and the EU. I hope the Commission and High Representative will find active support from Turkey in their efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Middle East conflict, and I hope that they will seek closer cooperation with Turkey to end the ongoing hell that we see in Syria.
However, EU-Turkey relations are, formally, predominantly about domestic affairs and reforms: the Copenhagen criteria. A focus on foreign affairs and Turkey’s important role in the region neither compensates for nor replaces the relevance of making reforms to meet these criteria. Similarly, it seems that Turkey’s economy is doing better than all its neighbours, with truly remarkable figures. Yet economic success cannot replace good governance, respect for civil rights and a functioning rule of law.
A press release I recently received from the Turkish Government aimed to explain that the rule of law is not violated in Turkey but accepted that there are approximately 70 journalists in prison. Official charges are not always filed and pre-trial detention periods can last years. To make matters worse, indictments that are presented are often supported by something called ‘secret evidence’, which makes a transparent judicial process impossible.
The Turkish Government asserted that these journalists are in prison on terrorism charges and that those of us who believe press freedom is under pressure are wrong. This House, the Commission and the External Action Service have assessed the press freedom issue in Turkey with great concern. Would the High Representative and the Commissioner agree that it is time to broaden the scope and assess whether counter-terrorism laws are being abused and whether the rule of law is still functioning in line with the Copenhagen criteria, so that we can move towards the much-needed accession of Turkey to the EU?