“Because Turkey does not meet 100 percent the conditions set forth by the EU for meeting democratic standards, it faces opposition from the bloc. This opposition makes Turkey unhappy and hence it has got reform fatigue, despite the fact that it has not fully met the accession partnership criteria,” noted Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, head of the EU delegation in Turkey, during a recent meeting with Turkish and foreign media members in Ankara.
To support his argument, Ripert recalled a draft law prepared by Turkey for the establishment of a national human rights board, which he said failed to be independent from the government both with its budget and with the presence of state bureaucrats as board members.
“We told the Turkish side that the draft law does not fully conform with EU standards, although the creation of the board is a step in the right direction. But again, the Turkish side is unhappy,” Ripert underlined.
Nevertheless, despite a long period of stagnation, Turkish-EU ties have recently gotten warmer as both sides invented a new term, “positive agenda,” which describes the resumption of the accession negotiations in one of the stalled chapters. However, they refrained from using the word “negotiations” to bypass the Greek Cypriot veto of Turkey. Turkey has threatened to freeze diplomatic relations with the EU if there is no deal in the UN-brokered peace talks on the reunification of Cyprus by the time the Greek Cypriot administration takes the EU presidency on July 1.
Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration as the sole representative of the eastern Mediterranean island, which is divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
Through the new positive agenda policy, Turkey and Brussels will try to avert a possible political crisis that may erupt when the Greek Cypriot government takes over the rotating EU presidency for six months.
Ripert sought to assure Turks during his lunch meeting with the press in Ankara last week that a positive agenda process was not an alternative to Turkey's accession negotiations. His assurance comes in the midst of speculations that the initiation of a positive agenda is window-dressing rather than a real dialogue between Turkey and the EU.
It is worth mentioning that regardless of how the positive agenda is perceived in Turkey, it is a positive step in revitalizing the long-stalled Turkish-EU relations.
Ripert appeared to be fair on Turkey, whose full membership in the EU has long been contested by countries like Germany and France. He stressed that he believed in Turkey's accession process to the EU, saying that he wants to make a difference and hence, he is in Turkey.
In the meantime, there are expectations that France will pursue a more positive stance toward Turkey's full membership in the EU under its new president, François Hollande.
Ripert did criticize Ankara for failing to bring the judiciary system in line with democratic standards. While hailing Turkey for its improvements in the judicial system, Ripert stated that Turkey has some way to go to introduce an independent, impartial, efficient and transparent justice system.
The EU ambassador reiterated EU concerns about the rights of the defense to a fair trial due to deficiencies in the Turkish judicial system, such as restrictions on access to certain evidence referred to in the indictment. The failure to give detailed grounds for detention is another source of concern, he said. He also raised the concern by the EU over ongoing Turkish coup trials.
However, Ripert said it was up to each government how they deal with their past, namely, the coup trials. He referred to the last European Commission's Progress Report on Turkey issued in November that stated the Ergenekon investigation and investigations into other alleged coup plans remain an opportunity for Turkey to shed light on criminal activities against democracy and to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law.
The EU wants to see the military come under civilian democratic control, Ripert recalled. He also made an interesting point when he said that the Turkish military reforms have come to the attention of the Arab Spring countries, which are keen to set up relations with Ankara.
Ripert was critical of the Turkish government over what he described as increased intolerance to freedom of the press and stated that it was no secret that the Turkish government has increasingly been interfering in the judicial process when it comes to opponents of the government. “Governments should see freedom of expression and freedom of the press as part of democracy and should accept being criticized,” he said.
In the final analysis, it is a positive move that Turkey and the EU are engaged in talks on stalled topics as this may pave the way for a fresh start for Turkish democratic reforms.