The 2015 EU Progress Report on Turkey, after having its release postponed for a month, has attracted a number of strong reactions for its critique on Turkey and a number of its flaws. Even so, between many of its criticisms, the report still managed to put forward some clear points for why Turkey is improving in its respect for human rights and democratic standard.
The Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (EEC) signed an Association Agreement in 1964 aiming towards the accession of Turkey into the EEC. The agreement was secured as a means to promote continuous and balanced relations between both parties and have linked them together since.
In 1995, a Customs Union agreement was established, and in 1996, a free trade area was established for products covered by the European Coal and Steel Community. The European Council granted Turkey with the status of candidate country in 1999 and accession negotiations were opened in 2005.
On 10th November 2015, the European Commission released its annual reports on the progress achieved by EU candidate and potential candidate countries.
The 2015 EU Progress Report on Turkey covered the period from October 2014 to September 2015 and was based upon input from a variety of sources, including contributions from the government of Turkey, the EU member States, European Parliament reports and information from various international and non-governmental organizations
The past year has been one of turbulence, for both Turkey and the European Union. While Europe has been struck by the Eurozone and refugee crises, Turkey has faced significant and increasing challenges in both domestic and foreign policy realms.
The report was severely critical of the domestic situation in Turkey and put forward concerns in regards to Turkey’s freedom of expression. The report menftioned that Turkey had also seen severe deterioration in its security situation, which is highlighted to be apparent in the huge terrorist attack that took place in Ankara during October 2015 and ended the lives of scores of demonstrators who had gathered for a peace rally.
Although many areas of the report have signaled troubled relations between Ankara and Brussels, and caused Turkey’s officials to have dampened their expectations of Turkey’s long-stalled accession process and the speeding up of visa liberalization for Turks travelling to the EU, the report does manage to pick up on quite a few areas where Turkey has been making some crucial developments.
One of the first positives the report points out is that although a government could not be formed by the constitutional deadline after the 7th June 2015 general elections in Turkey, and repeat elections had to take place 1st November 2015, the initial elections saw a record 84 per cent turn out, which for the EU, is a clear sign of the strengths of Turkish democracy.
The EU praised Turkey for currently hosting the biggest number of refugees in the world, including more than 2 million Syrians, for whom Turkey has spent 6.7 billion euros so far. The report also points towards the challenges associated with an influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq, while commending the launch of a joint EU-Turkey Action Plan for refugees and migrant management to ensure that refugees who are in Turkey stay there by improving their living conditions and future prospects.
The EU notes that The Commission and Turkey have also agreed to step up cooperation on energy and have launched a High Level Energy Dialogue. Both sides have continued to enhance dialogue and cooperation in areas of joint interests, which support and complement the accession negotiations. There have been a number of mutual high-level visits, and dialogue on foreign and security policy has been persistent.
Positive developments were seen in Turkey’s alignments of its rules to the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which allows developing country exporters to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU – which gives them vital access to EU markets and contributes to their economic growth.
The report also points out that Turkey has continued to adopt and implement secondary legislation relating to the new Consumer Protection Law that entered into force during 2014. The new law governs all kinds of transactions and practices concerning consumers and aims to protect them against stronger sellers and/or suppliers.
Public health in Turkey was highlighted to have generally improved. The quantitative capacity of health services has increased, including the number of doctors per capita. Life expectancy at birth has risen to 76.9 years from 72.4 years in the past decade. The national tobacco control programme action plan for 2015-2018 became effective, which is seeing measures being taken towards the reduction of tobacco demand through the use of public information, awareness and education.
The EU promotes strong climate action, sustainable development and protection of the environment and has noted that Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of environment and climate change. In the past year there has been progress in aligning environmental legislation and in September 2015, Turkey submitted its intended contribution to the expected 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Turkey is also preparing to set up and implement a monitoring, reporting and verification system, and build up its capacity on land use, forestry and fluorinated gases in order to develop a comprehensive policy and strategy consistent with the EU 2030 framework.
In areas of education, training and youth, Turkey has been reported to participate fully in the European universities exchange programme, Erasmus+, and as applications for the Erasmus+ programme continued to grow, the country increased its contribution to the programme to 135 million euros in 2015.
Turkey has made significant progress on the EU’s Education and Training 2020 strategic framework, which is a forum for the exchange of best practices, mutual learning, gathering and dissemination of information and evidence of what works, as well as advice and support for policy reforms.
Turkey was also pointed out to be at an advanced stage for implementing the Bologna Process – a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries designed to ensure comparability in standards and the quality of higher education qualifications.
Impacts of the report
Although Turkey’s ministry for EU affairs criticized the EU for ‘exaggerating’ certain points and reacted negatively to the report’s criticism in relation to Turkey’s setbacks, it did praise the new method adopted by the EU in terms of providing a general evaluation of the progress in EU-Turkey relations rather than just feedback on last year’s performance.
Although the report did not hold back in highlighting some on Turkey’s flaws, on the whole, it has not been entirely negative. It has identified tremendous amounts of progress made by Turkey in areas such as democratic standards, dealing with the refugee crisis, cooperation, dialogue, human rights, public health, climate change and education.
The report has also correctly emphasised that the EU and Turkey both face common threats, share common interests, and in order to deal with these have to work together in domains ranging from trade, to foreign policy, energy, security, the refugee crisis and the war against radical Islam.