Europe’s Duff to Ankara: We have never been this close to suspending talks

21 February 2014 /SELÇUK GÜLTAŞLI, BRUSSELS – Zaman – A senior member of the European Parliament (EP) has said that the European Union has never been as close as now to considering the possibility of suspending accession talks with Turkey. British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said President Abdullah Gül’s signing of the Internet law and the expectation that he would do the same with the law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) has made the option of suspending negotiations a possibility.

The comment came during a panel discussion in the EP titled “Turkish Democracy in Transition: Current Developments and Critics,” organized by an online forum called Turkey Debate. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Şahin Alpay, a columnist for Today’s Zaman. Duff also warned that the EU’s Copenhagen criteria were being breached by Turkey, and that there would have to be consequences.

One of the most veteran politicians of the EP and a seasoned observer of Turkish politics, Duff was asked about the EU’s reaction to President Gül’s signature of the Internet law and the likelihood that he would do the same with the new HSYK law. He reiterated that the EU was closer to the point of suspending talks following the measures the government took after the Dec. 17 corruption scandal.

 Despite an outcry from the European Union and the Council of Europe, Gül approved the Internet law and, in an awkward sequence of events, asked Parliament to amend two articles. Turkish presidents have the authority to send laws back to Parliament for reconsideration before signing them into law. Asking Parliament to amend laws before approval has been the tradition of presidents since the 1982 Constitution was approved by the public. Rather than sending the law back to be amended before signing it, Gül did the opposite.

Duff, a former president of the European Federalists, also said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had failed to grasp the message given him by the Europeans about the separation of powers and the rule of law during his visit to Brussels on Jan. 21.

EU sources, however, told Today’s Zaman that while the European Parliament and the European Commission would continue to strongly criticize Erdoğan and his government, European Council member states do not have any appetite to go for the “nuclear option” — proposing the suspension of talks. According to Article 5 of the Accession Negotiation Framework agreed upon by the member states in October 2005, in the event of a persistent breach of democratic principles, the suspension of talks can be proposed. Article 5 states: “In the case of a serious and persistent breach in Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded, the Commission will, on its own initiative or on the request of one third of the Member States, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption. The Council will decide by qualified majority on such a recommendation, after having heard Turkey, whether to suspend the negotiations and on the conditions for their resumption.”

Dr. Alpay, who was very critical of Erdoğan’s stance following the Dec. 17 corruption investigations, also deplored President Gül’s reluctance to oppose anti-democratic steps taken by the government. Stressing that Gül was fast losing his political capital and credibility because of his extremely reconciliatory attitude in the face of the government’s ever-increasing authoritarian tendencies, Dr. Alpay said Gül had given the impression that he was waiting for “the meat to rot.”