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European Union; Turkey: 2011 Progress Report on Turkey’s Accession

(Nov. 16, 2011) On October 12, 2011, the European Commission published its annual overview of the enlargement policy and the progress made by candidate countries in their efforts to join the European Union. The Report on Turkey is composed of 115 pages and covers the period 2010-2011 (hereinafter the Report). (Turkey 2011 Progress Report, Accompanying the Document Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011-2012 (Commission Staff Working Paper, No. SEC (2011) 1201 final) (Oct. 12, 2011), EUROPA.)

Progress by candidate countries is assessed based on how they meet the Copenhagen political and economic criteria, which were established by the European Council meeting in Copenhagen in 1993, and the respect shown to minorities within their jurisdictions. Furthermore, in examining the progress made on the issue of transposition of EU legislation by Turkey within its legal system, the Report notes that Turkey has opened negotiations on thirteen out of the thritythree required negotiation chapters. Only one chapter has been provisionally closed. Screening reports on nine chapters are currently discussed at the Council of the EU.

Political Criteria

The political criteria encompass respect for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and protection of minorities. The Report states that since the Turkish constitutional referendum in 2010 and the elections of 2011, which were conducted fairly and freely, the need emerged to adopt a new Constitution to replace the 1982 Constitution enacted after military rule was imposed. The Report noted that no progress was made on harmonizing Turkey's standards with the EU in regard to requirements on political parties. In 2003, Turkey banned the People's Democratic Party; the country was found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of violating the right of freedom of assembly and association. (Id.)

Concerning the new government that took over in June 2011, the Report noted that the government reaffirmed its support of the accession process. A new Ministry on EU Affairs created to deal with accession issues, was established. The Report also noted the developments in legislative reform in the field of public administration and civil service. The Report, however, draws attention to Turkey's failure to amend the Internal Service Law of the Turkish Armed Forces, which deals with the duties of the military and allows the military a wide scope of discretion to intervene in politics. (Id.)

In the field of human rights and protection of minorities, the Report cites Turkey's ratification in November 2010 of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. As noted in the Report, Turkey also ratified the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and three additional Protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR rendered 418 judgments pertaining to Turkey during the reporting period (2010-2011) and found Turkey in violation of numerous rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since October 2010, the ECHR received 7,764 new applications against Turkey, related to the right to a fair trial and protection of property rights. In September 2011, 18,432 applications were pending against Turkey at the ECHR. The Report also notes that Turkey has complied with the majority of the ECHR judgments, but there are still a considerable number of cases on which Turkey has failed to act. The Report mentioned in particular the case of Cyprus v. Turkey, which deals with the issue of missing persons in Cyprus and the property rights of those who were displaced following the events of 1974. (Id.)

On the issue of freedom of expression, the Report states that freedom of the media continues to be an issue in Turkey. A number of journalists are in detention, and those journalists and writers who follow the Kurdish issue are subject to persecution. Turkey's criminal laws on the press remain problematic, the Report indicates, because they limit greatly the freedom of expression. On freedom of assembly, the Report cites some progress as having been made, even though demonstrations are usually met with disproportionate use of force by the police. There are restrictions on the opening of branches of foreign associations; the Minister of the Interior must consult with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to allow the opening of such associations. (Id.)

Concerning religious minorities, the Report states that non-Moslem minorities continue to encounter discrimination and administrative hurdles in the opening and operation of places of worship. Identity cards still state the religious affiliations of individuals. Part of the problem, according to the Report, lies in the denial of permission by Turkish authorities for non-Moslem minorities to operate as legal persons. In addition, the report points out that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is still not allowed to use the word “ecumenical” as part of his title on all occasions, despite the Venice Commission's 2010 conclusion that such a refusal violates the autonomy of the Orthodox Church. (Id.) The Venice Commission, also known as the European Commission for Democracy through Law, is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional issues and was founded in 1990.

Economic Criteria

The economic criteria that candidate countries have to meet in order to join the EU include the existence of a functioning market economy and the ability to deal with divergent, competitive, economic markets within the Union. The Report states that Turkey is to a large extent a market-driven economy “with relatively prudent public finance policy.” (Id.) The Report recommends that structural reforms are still needed, however, in the areas of taxation and employment. It also noted that in spite of a worldwide economic downturn, Turkey's economy had grown in 2010 and during the first six months of 2011, because of strong domestic demand. In 2010, the unemployment rate was close to 1.9%, down significantly from 14% in 2009. (Id.)