Erdogan in Brussels: EU Concerned about Turkey’s Internal Struggles

Written by | Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

EU leaders have urged Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his first visit to Brussels in five years on Tuesday (21 January) not to backtrack on democratic reforms required for its EU membership bid. Brussels has been increasingly alarmed over a purge of officials in Turkey’s judiciary and police. Though the Turkish leader sought to explain to the EU’s top officials why he hastily tried to push through sweeping changes in the Turkish judicial system, he did not seem to have convinced EU officials, who were probably more concerned about the bill’s compliance with EU principles the than motives behind them.
Turkey, which began EU membership negotiations in 2005, opened a new chapter in its accession negotiations with the EU in November 2013, the first in three and a half years. Ankara also launched talks with the EU concerning visa liberations in December last year which is a contentious issue that it has sought to solve for a long time. But Erdogan’s visit also came at a time when the relations are marked by an increasing strain, mainly caused by the Turkish government’s drive for sweeping overhaul of the country’s judicial system. This controversial move, which followed a graft scandal implicating several top government officials, raised eyebrows in the EU and the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights and rule of law watchdog.
Despite the declarations on both sides, calling on the EU and Turkey to strive to keep the newfound momentum in the relations alive, the issues of the rule of law and the separation of powers seem to have taken the centre stage during Erdogan’s visit to Brussels. EU Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, said that for Turkey as a candidate country “it is important not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner.” The Commission’s President, José Manuel Barroso, added that the Turkish leader gave his European partners reassurances of his intention to “fully respect the rule of law, the independence of judiciary and, generally speaking, the separation of powers”.
Erdogan, on his part, said that his government received “some recommendations” from the European leaders about the draft bill and relevant changes have been already made in the parliamentary committee. Erdogan’s government had withdrawn some of the provisions in the bill earlier. During the Turkish Prime Minister’s first visit to Brussels in half a decade, it was obvious that both Turkish and EU top officials seemed to measure their words, despite the visible tension in their relations.

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