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EU preparing to snub Turkey over Erdogan’s lurch towards autocracy 24 février 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Times (UK) February 24, 2014, p. 22

Alexander Christie-Miller

The European Union is expected to put Turkey’s membership application on ice amid fears that the country’s Prime Minister is steering his Government towards autocracy.

« It’s a charade to pretend there is a genuine accession process going on, » said Andrew Duff, the MEP for East of England, and a long-time advocate of Turkey’s membership. « I think that it would be a surprise if it were not suspended in the autumn, » he told The Times. The pressure to end talks comes as Ankara’s Western allies express growing concern at legislation pushed through by Recep Tayyip Erdogan which curtails civil rights and grants him sweeping new powers.

Last week, Turkey’s Government proposed a new Bill that would dramatically extend the powers of the domestic intelligence agency, the MIT. The law, expected to be passed by Parliament this week, would grant the agency broad legal immunities and the right to « collect, record and analyse information, documents, news and data by using all kinds of technical and human intelligence, methods, tools and systems ».

Under the law, journalists and editors who publish leaked MIT documents would face prison. MPs recently passed another Bill that gives the Government tighter control over the judiciary.

On March 5, an EU foreign affairs committee will vote on an amendment calling on Parliament and the Commission to « review the integrity and plausibility » of Turkey’s accession in the country’s next annual progress report.

The amendment invites them to consider « whether an alternative form of association short of full membership would be a more feasible goal, at least in the medium term ». Turkey has completed one of the 35 chapters of reforms required for accession, with work continuing on 13. Several more remain blocked by France and Cyprus. The accession process can be suspended « in the event of a serious and persistent breach of democratic principles ».

« My view is that Turkey has now breached the Copenhagen criteria [for EU membership] on a sufficient scale and for sufficient time for us to be obliged to draw conclusions, » said Mr Duff. He said a suspension might come in October, when new EU commissioners have been appointed. He said « Turcophobes » in the EU Parliament had been joined by disillusioned former supporters of Ankara’s bid in calling for an end to talks « at least until Tayyip Erdogan has either disappeared or is constrained by moderates within the AKP [the ruling party]. »

At the weekend, Istanbul was shaken by some of the largest demonstrations since police crushed a protest movement last summer. Police fired plastic bullets, teargas, and water cannon at several thousand demonstrators marching against a recently passed law that will allow the Government to view internet user data and block websites without judicial review.

Last week, President Obama spoke to Mr Erdogan over the phone about « the importance of sound policies rooted in the rule of law ».

Hélène Flautre, MEP, the head of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee, said the credibility of the membership bid had been « seriously weakened » by years of stagnation. In spite of Turkey’s « extremely worrying » trajectory, however, she insisted: « This negotiation process is still the best means for EU to exert influence on the Turkish Government, and European standards are still the best reference for the democratic reforms in Turkey. »

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