Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be bolstered by his party’s local election win, but EU officials warned on Monday that he must focus on democratic reforms if Ankara is to achieve closer ties with Brussels.
Doubts remain over his commitment to such reforms after ministers ordered Twitter and YouTube to be blocked, sparking international condemnation.
European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said: “Turkey as a candidate country now needs to move forward in the accession and negotiations and work that is needed in this respect as well as the work that needs to be done in the European agenda.”
Turkey was designated as a candidate country for EU membership in 1999.
Its bid to join the 28-member bloc has been hampered by the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey invaded the north of the country in 1974 in response to a military coup on the island.
Cyprus, now an EU member itself since 2004, strongly opposes Turkey joining and the failure of the two countries to normalise relations has further slowed progress.
There are continued concerns about the freedom of the press, the rule of law and the separation of powers in Turkey.
As EU officials made clear during Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Brussels in January, backsliding on democracy will hurt Ankara’s EU ambitions.
Amanda Paul of the European Policy Centre said: “Unfortunately for Turkısh democracy, I dont thınk (the election results) have been a victory at all. Ultimately democracy in Turkey remains in trouble and need to be rectify as soon as possible.”
The AK Party’s victory looks set to pave the way for Erdogan to run for president later this year.
Turkish voters will choose their first directly elected president in an August ballot.