Turkey taking ‘huge strides’ away from European Union, top EU official says

Turkey taking ‘huge strides’ away from European Union, top EU official says

Turkey is moving rapidly away from the path of European Union membership, the top EU official in charge of negotiations said on Tuesday, as Brussels' delivered its harshest criticism yet of Ankara's shift towards authoritarianism.

While couched in diplomatic language, the European Commission's annual report on Turkey's progress towards membership blamed Ankara for a broad, collective and disproportionate crackdown following a failed 2016 coup attempt.

It warned that years of progress towards European Union standards in human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law were being lost and that Turkey had seen a weakening of local democracy as presidential powers increased.

Turkey "continues to take huge strides away from the EU, in particular in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights," European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who oversees EU membership bids, told a news conference after publishing the report.

"The Commission has repeatedly called on Turkey to reverse this negative trend as a matter of priority and makes very clear the recommendations on this in today's report," he said.

The report also called for Turkey to lift the state of emergency that allows President Tayyip Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and to suspend rights and freedoms.

The European Commission's report said that since the introduction of the state of emergency, over 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Some 40,000 have been reinstated, Turkish authorities say.

The government says its security measures are necessary given the severity of the threats faced by Turkey, a NATO member, which shares a land border with Iraq and Syria.

Turkey began talks to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying and while a series of issues, notably Cyprus and resistance to Turkish membership in Germany and France, slowed negotiations, membership talks have been stalled since 2016.

However, Erdogan said last month he remained committed to seeking EU membership. [Reuters] 

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