By Yusuf Hatip and Serife Cetin
STRASBOURG (AA) – In its 2018 report on Turkey released Tuesday, the European Commission praised Turkey’s migration policy, economic growth, and enhancing regional cooperation, but also claimed "serious backsliding on the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression."
The report on Turkey, a candidate country for full EU membership, comes after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus.
The report’s release was announced by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, at a press conference in Brussels.
The report on Turkey, formerly called the progress report, again includes the PKK on the EU list of terrorist groups, while the Fetullah Terrorist Group (FETO) — the group behind the July 2016 defeated coup attempt in Turkey, which martyred 250 people and injured some 2,200 — is not described as a terrorist group.
The report called the defeated coup "a traumatic period in Turkey".
"The EU, which immediately and strongly condemned the attempted coup, reiterated its full support for the country's democratic institutions, and recognised Turkey's legitimate need to take swift and proportionate action in the face of such a serious threat," it said.
Turkey has criticized the EU for in fact being slow to denounce the defeated coup as well as the failing to condemn the group behind it.
The report criticized widespread dismissals in the defeated coup’s wake of accused coup-plotters, as Turkey has accused FETO of extensive infiltration of public institutions such as the military, judiciary, and education system.
The report's description of FETO is unchanged from the 2016 report, which called the terrorist group the "Gulen movement."
– ‘Turkey significant partner, candidate country’
The report stressed that Turkey is an important partner and candidate country for the EU and its full membership perspective remains ongoing.
The report said Turkey has made good progress in the area of public administration reforms, with a strong commitment to a more open administration and the use of e-government.
-Continued implementation of migration deal
Hailing Turkey’s “good progress” in the area of migration and asylum policy, the report said: “Turkey remained committed to the implementation of the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement,” under which irregular migrants who reached Greece from Turkey would be returned, and the number of migrants at sea has dropped drastically.
It also emphasized that the migration deal — signed on March 2016 between Turkey and EU — continues to bear positive and concrete fruit.
The report also highlighted Turkey voluntarily undertaking the important responsibility in hosting 3.5 million Syrians.
-Fight against terrorism, organized crime
The report said Turkey has made some progress in fighting organized crime, but added that legislation on cybercrime needs some improvement.
On terror financing and counter-terrorism, Turkey has a comprehensive legal framework, it said.
-Turkey supports solution to Cyprus issue
On regional cooperation, the report said Turkey has taken important steps.
Citing Turkey’s support for finding a solution to the Cyprus issue, it also pointed to Turkey’s ongoing support for EU efforts on the issue.
Mentioning that cooperation between Turkey and Bulgaria on migration has grown stronger, the report said Turkey needs to be committed to “good neighbourly relations, international agreements, and to the peaceful settlement of disputes.”
-Record economic growth praised
Underlining the record economic growth Turkey saw in 2017, the report hailed the country’s success in turning the economic shrinkage following the 2016 defeated coup into powerful growth.
It also said Turkey has made progress in adopting EU regulations in economics.
It added that the Turkish economy is “well advanced” and is a functioning market economy.
Mentioning the economy’s good level of preparation for coping with competitive pressures, the report said it is well-integrated with the EU market in terms of both trade and investment.
It also noted Turkey’s progress in the energy and natural gas sectors.
– Terrorist PKK
The report described the PKK’s terrorist activities in southeastern Turkey as “one of the most acute challenges for the country.”
It mentioned that the PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the EU and added that Turkey “has a legitimate right to fight against terrorism” while urging that Turkey ensure “the proportionate use of force.”
On the legal framework of Turkey’s fight against terrorism, the European Commission said that “both the criminal and anti-terror legislation need to be aligned with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case-law.”
– State of emergency and judicial independence
The EU report claimed that there has been “serous backsliding” in the rule of law in Turkey, public sector reform, fundamental rights, and freedom of expression.
“There is massive backsliding away from the European Union,” it claimed.
In the political criteria section of the report, the commission underlined “Turkey's legitimate need to take swift and proportionate action” on the wake of the 2016 defeated coup attempt, claiming that the measures taken under the state of emergency were "disproportionate."
The report contains the following statement regarding the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO):
"The state of emergency declared in the wake of the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 remains in force, aiming at dismantling the Gulen movement, designated by the government as a terror organisation responsible of the coup attempt, as well as at supporting the fight against terrorism, against the background of repeated attacks in Turkey, overall a traumatic period in Turkey."
On judicial independence, the report alleged there had been “serious backsliding” in this area.
– Fundamental rights and freedoms
The EU Commission report also alleged "serous backsliding" in the areas of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, saying there had been an increase in allegations of torture and ill-treatment since the previous report published in November 2016.
It demanded that allegations of torture be "effectively investigated" and called for the termination of temporary detention practices.
The report also said that some changes adopted in Turkey’s 2017 constitutional amendment referendum be reviewed in the context of Council of Europe criteria.
The report said that Turkey has still not implemented the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement — dealing with the Greek Cypriot administration — and underlined that no new chapter in Turkey’s accession process will be opened until full implementation of the protocol.