The European Commission (EC) has highlighted “serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions” in its”Key findings of the 2021 Report on Turkey” that was issued in Strasbourg yesterday, 19 October.

The document noted a continued centralisation of powers to the Presidency under Recep Tayyip Erdogan without a “separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary.” It said the only check to the executive branch was through the limited elections.

“Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. Key recommendations of the Council of Europe and its bodies remain to be addressed. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable,” the report stated in its introduction.

It noted that the targeting of opposition parties had continued and these were weakening political pluralism in Turkey.

“Serious backsliding continued on freedom of expression. Legislation and its implementation, especially national security and anti-terrorism provisions, continued to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards and to diverge from European Court of Human Rights case law.”

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According to the report, the rights of disadvantaged and minority groups needed better protections and noted that the Roma remained largely excluded from formal employment.

“Gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, in particular against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons are still a matter of serious concern.,” the report noted.

Turkey had made progress on migration and asylum policy, with EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 continuing to play a key role in ensuring the “effective management of migratory flows along the eastern Mediterranean route.”

COVID-19 restrictions were cited for the suspension of the EU-Turkey Statement. The EC reported that although the volume of irregular arrivals to Greece fell, smuggling routes to Italy and government controlled areas of Cyprus continued to be used but that the overall number of crossings between Turkey and Greece were at a much lower level that before the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.

It added that Turkey had continued “to make significant efforts to host and meet the needs of the largest refugee community in the world”. Turkey needed to increase access to public health for migrants and refugees and it needed to further align visa legislation with the EU.

The EC report stated that Turkish foreign policy “collide with EU priorities … notably due to its support for military action in the Caucasus, Syria and Iraq.”

“Turkey’s military support in Libya, including the deployment of foreign fighters on the ground, and its persistent criticism of, and lack of cooperation with Operation IRINI, are detrimental to the EU’s effective contribution to the UN arms embargo implementation, and have led to conflicting approaches on Libya. ”

“Turkey continued to assert the validity of the Turkish-Libyan maritime delimitation and military agreements of 2019. The EU considers this an infringement of the sovereign rights of third States, not complying with the Law of the Sea and having no legal consequences for third States.”

It noted that while Turkey shared the EU hopes for a stable and prosperous Syria it had pursued its own military actions in northern Syria including the use of Turkish-backed militias.

In the eastern Mediterranean, tensions had fallen at the start of the year as Turkey stopped its hydrocarbon exploration in the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus.

“However, in early October Turkish warships obstructed the vessel Nautical Geo from conducting a survey in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, and Turkey issued a NAVTEX for conducting seismic surveys which would encompass parts of Cyprus’ EEZ. Furthermore, Turkey continued undertaking actions towards changing the status of the fenced-off city of Varosha with unacceptable unilateral decisions which go against the relevant UN SC (Security Council) Resolutions.”

“Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations, international agreements and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice.

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On the economic front, the report noted that the Turkish economy was “well-advanced” but that it had made no progress over the reporting period and that “serious concerns” persist over its functioning”.

The report noted that Turkey’s ability to assume the obligations of EU membership was “very limited and was pursued on a rather ad hoc basis”.

“In all areas, implementation and enforcement needs substantial improvement. Ensuring the independence of regulatory authorities and developing administrative capacity are key for Turkey to achieve further progress,” the EC report concluded.