European Parliament report on Turkey: criticizing itself with its own words by Egemen Bağış*
The fifth report of the European Parliament (EP) on Turkey was adopted on March 9, 2011 by the Plenary Assembly of the EP. Public debate on this report had already started after its approval in the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Whereas significant changes were made to the report at the Plenary Assembly, the final text does not appear to have been written with an objective and balanced approach. Once again, it seems that the EP report was the result of “horse trading.”
Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the EP rapporteur who prepared this document, wrote an article in Zaman on March 16 in response to our reactions to the report.
Oomen-Ruijten’s wish to make a statement to the Turkish public through this article should be viewed positively. I consider this attitude to be very important in terms of maintaining an open dialogue and furthering contact between the members of the EP and the Turkish public. I would also like to underline the significance of the efforts of the EP rapporteur to employ a balanced approach in her article, which we were not able to discern in the report.
A balanced approach may be discerned through the content and nature of the criticism and praises, not the number of times these have been expressed in the document. To line up critical remarks with positive ones and conclude on the basis of this that the report is balanced would be an incomplete and faulty approach.
Similar to the report, there are some matters in Oomen-Ruijten’s article that are based on prejudice and need to be revised.
As we have known each other for a long time and have worked closely for the last two years, I feel obliged to increase the awareness of the public in Europe and Turkey regarding issues on which Oomen-Ruijten is mistaken.
As we stated following the publication of this report, criticizing Turkey for a lack of progress in the Ergenekon case and the planned coup d’état, while referring to detentions related to this case as restrictions of freedom of the press is a serious contradiction. To treat freedom of the press as the freedom to commit crimes or devious acts is not an approach that is conducive to the EU’s historical mission.
The rapporteur states that members of the EP have access to the relevant documents on all of the developments in Turkey. The significant role of the press, apart from official sources, in providing information may be discerned from the report. Whereas the Secretariat General for EU Affairs (ABGS) regularly informs relevant EU institutions on Turkey’s progress in the negotiation process, the sources cited in the report seemed only to be information obtained from the media.
Would it be possible to access such a variety of information from a country in which freedom of the press was restricted?
The members of the EP have not taken note of the return of Kurdish intellectuals who had left Turkey due to anti-democratic practices in the past, and that is not comprehensible.
Contrary to what Oomen-Ruijten has stated, either the members of the EP are not following the developments in Turkey as much as they should, or some issues are being intentionally disregarded.
We feel that it would be useful to pose the following question: If the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press were still restricted or had not progressed in Turkey, would Kurdish journalists, intellectuals and artists who left the country two or three decades ago make plans to return today?
Would Kurdish intellectuals living in Sweden and Germany, countries with the highest democratic standards in Europe, plan to leave these countries to return to Turkey if they did not believe that they would be able to express themselves at least as freely as in those countries?
In this report, we observed with regret that the EP has been misinformed on the right to the freedom of expression or has based its opinions on biased information.
On the other hand, Oomen-Ruijten wishes that the report would not be used in the election campaigns in Turkey.
We must point out that Oomen-Ruijten should expect the same from the EP and EU member states. The rapporteur is criticizing herself with her own words.
In all of its election campaigns, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government underlined its determination to progress in the EU accession process and used each election as an opportunity to increase the public’s motivation for EU membership. The commitment of the AK Party to change and transform in the framework of the EU accession process has had a significant role in its success in the 2002 and 2007 general elections.
However, the situation has been completely different in EU member states.
Including elections to the EP, politicians lacking vision have believed that opposition to Turkey would increase their success in elections. In addition, the EU has not always kept its promises to Turkey.
If the EP and EU member states had not made Turkey an issue in their elections, then the EU would neither be facing the danger of losing Turkey nor would the adverse scenarios on the future of the EU be viable today.
If there is increasing mistrust in Turkey regarding the EU and if there are concerns about the EU accession process, which had support until recently, it is not Turkey but the EU that needs to reflect on this.
Finally, we believe Oomen-Ruijten’s recommendation on the cooperation of the government and the opposition referred to in her article to be very important. As the government, we also call for this cooperation at every opportunity.
We hope the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, which welcomed the report, will also welcome this recommendation of Oomen-Ruijten with the same enthusiasm.
We hope the CHP leader, who had earlier accused Oomen-Ruijten of praising the AK Party in exchange for gifts, will redress this remark by supporting this sincere and constructive recommendation.
*Egemen Bağış is Turkey’s chief EU negotiator.