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Spotlight: Turkey-EU ties face even more rough time after PACE decision
BY 2017-04-26 09:26:15

by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, April 26 (Xinhua) -- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted on Tuesday to reopen its monitoring procedure against Turkey, a decision that can potentially jeopardize Turkey's European Union bid amid deteriorating relations between Ankara and Brussels.

Ankara immediately reacted to the decision, announcing that "such a decision leaves no choice to Turkey but to reconsider its relations with this institution," the 47-member Council of Europe which is separate from the EU but represents in a broader sense the European bloc' s political soul.

The PACE voted in favour of restarting its monitoring of Turkey's respect for fundamental freedoms, which concluded in 2004, with 113 of the assembly's lawmakers voting in favour, 45 against and 12 abstained.

The report called on Ankara to lift its state of emergency and release the many politicians and journalists arrested in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016 under its anti-terrorism laws.

The report also proposed for monitoring to be reopened as a measure to improve cooperation between the Strasbourg institution and the Turkish authorities. The text expressed serious concerns about the constitutional amendments that passed in Turkey's 16 April referendum transforming the parliamentary system in a presidential one.

While the report acknowledges the difficulties posed in the aftermath of the coup attempt and by the ongoing terrorist threats by the Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State (IS), it also criticizes Turkey for a "serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions" manly because of the vast purges orchestrated by Ankara against suspected members of the Gulen organization, led by the U.S. exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen that the government accuses of being the mastermind of the coup plot.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denounced and rejected it in a communique as a "politically motivated operation."

After the vote, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it "strongly condemns this unjust decision of PACE taken with political motives in contravention to the established procedures."

In 2004, the EU informed Ankara that Turkey would have to exit the monitoring process, which has been in place since 1996, in order for it to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria, the standard of rules that decide if a country is eligible to join the EU.

In 2004, the monitoring process was lifted and in December the EU agreed to start full membership negotiations but talks which began in October 2005 made only little progress since then.

Relations with the EU soured especially during a referendum campaign in the past months on granting the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers, during which he vehemently accused Germany and the Netherlands of "Nazi practices" by banning political rallies in their countries.

Anti-EU sentiment has risen to unprecedented levels in Turkey fueled by ever growing deception among the population on faltering and never ending membership talks and by the opposition of some EU countries to a full membership perspective for Ankara.

On the weekend, Erdogan's chief aide Yigit Bulut penned a vitriolic editorial against the EU in a newspaper, accusing harshly the bloc of islamophobia.

"The EU has reached the end of the road. The EU is done, and we are setting out for a new journey ... A new world order is being carved out and it is high time to take our role in this new world," wrote Bulut in Star daily.

The Council of Europe applies its monitoring scheme to all countries when they join, but this was the first time it has been reopened against any member of the body, infuriating the Ankara government.

"We consider this decision as the result of a campaign against Turkey. It is purely a political decision," said government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus on public TV channel TRT.

The EU has already said that Turkey's EU negotiations will halt if president Erdogan, as he promised repeatedly to his many supporters, that he would reinstate death penalty, abolished in 2004.

EU lawmakers will debate relations with Turkey on Wednesday and the bloc's foreign ministers will discuss the situation on Friday.

Some experts were not hiding their pessimism on the turn taken by relations between Turkey and EU.

"Turkey has unfortunately no more place in the political sphere of Europe. Turkey has been downgraded to the second division of the European continent," said to Xinhua by Cengiz Aktar, a leading Turkish expert on European affairs.

This senior scholar of the Istanbul Centre for political studies argued that since 2013,namely after crushing a wave of peaceful demonstrations who began in Istanbul on summer and which spread to many Turkish cities, "Turkey has in fact tried to get herself out of Europe and the state does not want any political ties with the EU."

Many analysts predict that in case of a suspension of political relations Ankara and Brussels would purely concentrate on trade ties in line with their custom union, but this scheme would also yield problems for a NATO country with a geostrategical importance at the gates of Syria and Iraq.

"Of course, it's not the end of the world, but it's nevertheless a cause of serious concern because even though the Council of Europe is not a body of the EU, the bloc is very attentive to this institution's decisions," said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul based Centre for Economic and Political Studies (EDAM), arguing that Turkey should have proceeded with democratic reforms, as expected by the EU.

"We have to admit that Turkey has not fully respected all EU norms on democracy and human rights. She has a lot of homework to do in this regard."

"Unfortunately this could well lead to a suspension of EU-Turkey accession negotiations, which would also be a first in EU's history," added Sinan Ulgen.

(Editor:Li Zhaoqi) (From:xinhua)
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