ANKARA (Hurriyet)–The European Union will praise President Abdullah Gul for his conciliatory role in politics but criticize the government for not presenting a comprehensive reform plan despite its repeated commitmen’s to the EU reform process.
In an annual progress report due to be released on Nov. 5 the European Union Commission also complains the military still continued to state opinions on political and foreign policy issues that go beyond its remit and similarly criticized senior members of the judiciary who made statemen’s that can raise questions on their future impartiality.
The EU report praised President Abdullah Gul for playing a conciliatory role between political actors and his active participation in foreign policy making, noting his landmark visit to Armenia in September with a view to normalize relations with this estranged neighbor.
The European Union Commission also complains the military still continued to state opinions on political and foreign policy issues that go beyond its remit and similarly criticized senior members of the judiciary who made statemen’s that can raise questions on their future impartiality.
The EU report praised President Gul for playing a conciliatory role between political actors and his active participation in foreign policy making, noting his landmark visit to Armenia in September with a view to normalize relations with this estranged neighbor.
On the government, however, the report’s tone was tougher, complaining that, although it expressed commitment to the reforms, it has not put forward "a consistent and comprehensive program of reforms" to bring Turkey closer to the EU. It also complained of "lack of dialogue and spirit of compromise between the main political parties" and added that the closure cases against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP) affected to a considerable extent the work of Parliament.
"A new impetus now needs to be given to reform in order to strengthen democracy and human rights," the report said.
It noted that the government has proposed to draft a new constitution to expand civil freedoms but added that no draft has been presented to the public and that no timetable has been set for discussion.
The report mentioned a closure case against the ruling AK Party and the pro-Kurdish DTP. A chief prosecutor applied to the Constitutional Court seeking in separate cases the closure of the AK Party on charges of becoming a "focal point for anti-secular activities" and of the DTP on charges of engaging in activities against the unity and integrity of the country. The court narrowly ruled not to close the AK Party in July, while the case against the DTP is still pending.
The EU said the court decision not to close the AK Party helped avert a serious political crisis and "should provide fresh opportunities to restore dialogue and spirit of compromise between political parties."
The report also touched on an investigation into a shadowy network believed to have plotted to sow chaos in preparation for a military coup. It took note of complaints during the course of the investigation "regarding the insufficient safeguarding of the rights of defense and excessive duration of detention without indictment."
On civilian oversight of military, the EU said the government exerted control over the military in the context of cross-border operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq but complained that the armed forces have continued to exert influence on politics through a series of formal and informal ways. "Senior members of the armed forces have expressed their opinion on domestic and foreign policy issues going beyond their remit, including on Cyprus, the Southeast, secularism and other non-military developmen’s," the draft report said.
It further said that laws granting wide room for maneuver to the military by providing a broad definition of the national security, namely the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) Internal Service Law and Law on the National Security Council (MGK), have not been changed. Similarly, the 1997 EMASYA secret protocol on security, public order and assistance units remains in force unchanged, the report said, allowing the "military operations to be carried out for internal security matters under certain conditions without a request from the civilian authorities."
The draft report noted that an internal military memorandum leaked to the press identified NGOs that have received financial assistance from foreign organizations including the EU and that the memorandum has not been denied by the military.
Contrary to last year, the report did not mention a military classification of media institutions that results in effective exclusion of certain newspapers and television stations from military news sources.
The progress report expresses concern over the impartiality of the judiciary as well. "On some occasions, senior members of the judiciary made public political commen’s which may compromise their impartiality in future cases," said the draft document. It noted the transfer to a military court of a civil case involving army officers accused of attacking a local bookstore in the southeastern town of Semdinli.
On corruption, it complained of limited progress and said corruption remains a widespread issue.
Regarding torture, the report noted that Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin publicly apologized after death of leftist activist Engin Ceber following torture in detention, but complained that impunity for human rights violations still remains a concern. According to the EU, "There have been limited efforts as regards the prevention of torture and ill-treatment."
The report noted changes to the Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which the EU said restricts freedom of expression, but complained that the wording still remains largely the same and that the revised form, which requires prior authorization from the justice minister to open cases on the basis of Article 301, raises concerns that the article will be subject to political considerations. Articles 215, 216 and 217 of the TCK and the Anti-Terror Law were also mentioned as sources of concern for freedom of expression.
The EU raised frequent bans on popular Internet sites as well, saying they are "disproportionate in scope and duration." Ban on video sharing site YouTube was cited in particular.
On religious freedoms, the EU highlighted a government initiative to reach out to Alevis but said the initiative was not followed through on and that the Alevis continue to face the same problems as before. It also complained of compulsory religious classes in schools, saying this was not the case before the entry into force of the current Constitution, drafted by a military regime.
Praise for Turkey’s regional role
In addition to criticism, the EU report also noted that Turkey’s importance to the EU has increased in the areas of energy, and regional security and conflict prevention in the Caucasus. The EU reforms, it said, makes Turkey "a stronger force for stability" in the volatile region, which witnessed a Russian-Georgian war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August.
It said Turkey had played a "constructive role" in the Caucasus and the Middle East by proposing a Caucasus cooperation platform after the August crisis; by mediating peace talks between Israel and Syria; and by starting dialogue with Armenia with President Gul’s visit in September.