12 March 2014
Media freedom, relaunch of Cyprus talks, and judicial reforms are highlights in 2013 report
The European Parliament has approved the 2013 progress report for Turkey amid debates over recent developments in the country’s judiciary and politics.
The report, which presents a yearly evaluation of relations between the European Union and Turkey, passed with 475 votes in favor and 153 against.
During the debates over the report on Tuesday, Stefan Fule, the EU's chief enlargement official, praised Turkey's mediation in renewed negotiations on Cyprus between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides. Relations with Turkey were of special importance to the EU, Fule added.
The parliament's rapporteur for Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, said that Turkey needed an impartial judiciary and separation of powers. In line with the report, Ruijten stressed that freedom of expression must not be stifled.
Prior to the voting, EU lawmakers proposed a change in the text due to concerns over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks last week indicating a possible ban on the social networking site Facebook and the video-sharing website Youtube.
Erdogan said in a TV interview on Friday the government might consider blocking access to the popular social media and video-sharing websites if they continue to play host to recordings of illegal wiretapping activity.
The EU also warned that some prominent government officials' statements might trigger a cultural dissolution, in another accepted proposal for change in the report.
The parliament rejected a change request that suggested an independent investigation over Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Turkish preacher who is involved in a row with Erdogan, which, according to the EU, has a destabilizing effect on Turkey.
Gulen, who has a broad following in Turkish society, reportedly formed an organization nestled within the Turkish judiciary and police force.
The Turkish government says Gulen’s movement attempted to topple the Erdogan administration by orchestrating a corruption probe targeting high-profile politicians and businesspeople, including the sons of some former cabinet members.
Tuesday’s debates also saw the European Parliament discuss opening of Chapter 23 on judiciary and fundamental rights, within the scope of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the Union.
Turkey has faced criticism from EU leaders for its justice system and media freedom. Turkey's leaders have cited political roadblocks as obstacles in the way of progress in these areas, as several negotiation chapters remain blocked by member states.