Turkey’s EU bid in jeopardy after Council votes to reinstate monitoring procedure

The Council of Europe has voted to reopen its monitoring procedure against Turkey, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Ankara’s EU membership hopes

26 April 2017, 1:04pm
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted largely in favour of reopening monitoring against Turkey
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted largely in favour of reopening monitoring against Turkey
One of Europe’s leading human rights bodies has put Turkey back on a watchlist over “serious concerns” about democracy and human rights, putting pressure on the EU to reassess relations with Ankara.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to reinstate its monitoring of Turkey’s respect for fundamental freedoms, a process it had relaxed in 2004 when it intended to pave the way for it to begin accession talks with the European Union. 113 of the assembly’s lawmakers voted in favour, 45 against and 12 abstained.

The vote follows the submission of a report titled “The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey,” which called on Ankara to lift its state of emergency and release parliamentarians and journalists arrested in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016.

While the report acknowledges the difficulties posed in the aftermath of the coup attempt and by the ongoing terrorist threats, it also criticises Turkey for “a serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions”.

The unprecedented decision to reinstate monitoring of a Council of Europe member triggered a furious reaction from the Turkish government, which said the “unjust” move was motivated by xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Ankara, one of the council’s oldest members, said it was now reconsidering its relations with the body.

“The decision overlooks the constructive and frank dialogue and cooperation maintained by Turkey with the Council of Europe in the aftermath of the terrorist coup attempt. Such a decision leaves no choice to Turkey but to reconsider its relations with PACE,” the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.

The Council of Europe, co-founded by Winston Churchill in 1949, is a separate body from the EU, but its decisions are closely watched in Brussels.

EU foreign affairs ministers are due to discuss EU-Turkey relations on Friday for the first time since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan eked out a narrow victory in a referendum that granted him sweeping new powers as president.

MPs in the assembly concluded the contest took place on an “uneven playing field”, endorsing the verdict of observers from the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe, who said the referendum had fallen short of democratic standards.

MPs also raised concerns about Erdoğan’s promise to discuss reintroducing the death penalty, a move they stressed would be incompatible with Turkish membership of the Council of Europe.

Being monitored by the Council of Europe means Turkey will be subject to frequent visits by human rights officials and debated more often in the Strasbourg chamber.

The EU informed Ankara in 2014 that it would have to exit the monitoring process, which had been in place since 1996, in order for it to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, the set of rules that decide if a country is eligible to join the EU. The criteria state that “membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities”.

With the Council of Europe’s monitoring restarted, that status now appears in jeopardy.

Nine other Council of Europe countries are subject to this kind of monitoring: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.