By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Turkey’s hopes of joining the European Union are fading, the bloc’s executive said on Wednesday, citing worsening conditions in the courts, prisons and economy.
Still considered a close security ally, Turkey’s candidacy to join the world’s largest trading group is frozen because of “further serious backsliding” on human rights, judicial independence and stable economic policy, the Commission said.
Those are all areas considered central by the European Union, which prides itself on being a democratic club of market economies that respect the rule of law.
“Turkey has continued to move further away from the European Union,” the Commission said in its annual report on Ankara’s progress towards membership, a path formally undertaken in 2005.
“Negotiations have … effectively come to a standstill,” the Commission said of Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance which shares a border with Iraq and Syria.
In what EU governments view as a slide towards authoritarian rule under President Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara has faced several years of harsh Commission reports, but none have been so critical across so many areas.
The bloc’s executive said free speech and freedom to protest were being curtailed, local democracy was at risk, and the government had “negatively affected” financial markets.
“Serious backsliding continued in the Turkish economy, leading to deeper concerns over the functioning of the country’s market economy,” it said.
With Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents and his sweeping new presidential powers that the Commission say lacks checks and balances, many EU states say Turkey no longer meets the democratic criteria to be a candidate, let alone an EU member.
Turkey’s biggest foreign investor and trading partner, the European Union wants to see a return to the reforms of Erdogan’s first years in power as prime minister from 2003 that made it an important emerging economy.
But the Commission said in its report that even with the lifting of a state of emergency in 2018 following a failed coup in July 2016, many of its “repressive elements” became law.
The Commission said it was a matter of serious concern that a mayoral vote in Istanbul in March won by the opposition after 25 years of rule by Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessors, was annulled and rescheduled for June 23.
The Commission said that went “against the very core of a democratic electoral process – that is to ensure that the will of the people prevails.”
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)