Updated: 01/06/2019

Press Statement on the 2019 Country Report on Turkey by the European Commission

Distinguished Members of the Press,

  • The European Commission has announced the 2019 Enlargement Package today. The Enlargement Package consists of the Enlargement Strategy and Country Reports prepared for all candidate and potential candidate countries including Turkey.[1]
  • The 2019 Reports in the most recent Enlargement Package prepared by European Commission headed by the President of the EU Commission Jean Claude Juncker, mark a new beginning and also an end.
  • The current European Commission, which took office in 2015, had not made enlargement a priority among its policy areas. However, as seen in this year's Enlargement Strategy, increasing geopolitical challenges have put enlargement policy back on the Union agenda.
  • We are pleased to see that European Union (EU) institutions attach importance to the enlargement policy even though there is no consensus among Member States. Turkey supports the Commission’s recommendation to start negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania without delay and the road map prepared for Bosnia Herzegovina.
  • The strategic importance of the enlargement policy increases every single day in a period when there are fundamental changes in the international system and in our region. As emphasized in this year's Enlargement Strategy, the enlargement policy is key to achieving a more secure, prosperous and stronger EU.
  • The 2019 Country Report on Turkey, which is a part of the Enlargement Package, is the 21st one since 1998.
  • The Country Reports are critical texts raising standards by nature, evaluating progress achieved by candidate countries on the fulfilment of the Copenhagen political and economic criteria and alignment with the EU acquis.
  • Turkey will carefully note the consistent and reasonable criticism in the Report and will use it in the reform process in a constructive way. However, we cannot accept unfair and disproportionate criticisms. Our detailed evaluation will be also shared with the Commission.
  • This Report, prepared in a critical period during which we face many common challenges, is more a reflection of the existential crises of the EU.
  • As seen in the European Parliament (EP) elections, populist movements have found some support in certain segments of the European public and this perception has affected the EU institutions as well. The EU, which seems to move away from its founding ideology, is not able to be impartial regarding our country due to prejudices arising from its internal problems and is not able to assess accurately the current situation in our country.
  • In the Turkey Report, which shuns an accession perspective, the references made to our country as a "key partner" and the emphasis on a "broad strategic engagement in all key areas of joint interest" are insufficient.
  • Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership. Furthermore, Turkey is a candidate country which has been committed to the accession process despite the political blockages created by the EU. Contrary to the claim that Turkey is moving away from the EU, Turkey maintains its position, and will not move away.
  • Yet, there are some circles trying to distance the EU from its European values and Turkey.
  • Shortly after the start of the accession negotiations, the EU has brought Turkey's accession process to a standstill by unfairly bringing the Cyprus issue before Turkey and by overlooking the political obstructions placed by certain Member States.
  • While 14 chapters cannot be opened and any chapters be temporarily closed due to the Cyprus issue, the statement in the report that no chapters are foreseen to be opened to negotiations overshadow the credibility, prestige and anchorship role of the EU.
  • The EU’s biased and unfair approach regarding Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration has no meaning for Turkey. The EU does not have the authority or jurisdiction to determine borders between EU Member States and third countries.
  • With this approach, which disregards the transformative effect of the EU accession process on the candidate country, the EU enters into conflict with its own principles and rules.  Turkey has continued its commitment to the accession process for years "despite EU’s hesitation and the abuse of the EU membership by some circles for national interests".  Turkey is determined to continue on the accession path.
  • With reference to the June 2018 European Council conclusions, while the opening of new chapters to negotiations and the modernisation of the Customs Union are not foreseen in the report, cooperation with the EU in the area of migration is highly praised. This calls into question how "sincere and constructive" the EU is in its relations with Turkey.
  • We have no aim in conducting a “give and take” or transactional relations only in the areas of EU’s interests.

Distinguished Members of the Press,

  • The section on Political Criteria and Judiciary and Fundamental Rights in particular demonstrates that the report does not go further than reflecting the allegations of certain circles.
  • Turkey is making intense efforts to ensure the balance between freedom and security despite all threats faced.
  • Although the EU acknowledges the existence of the threats that our country is facing, it is unable to comprehend their extent and the necessity of the counter measures taken.
  • We expect our European friends and allies to support Turkey, rather than criticising our efforts to safeguard the democratic order, the rule of law, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens as well as to preserve social peace.  Turkey is committed to making progress in these areas, independently from its EU accession process.
  • In this framework, the emphasis in the Report on keeping the PKK terrorist organisation in the EU terrorist organisations list and the reference that FETO is seen as a terrorist organisation by our country are important.
  • However, addressing the FETO terrorist organisation in the report as the "Gulen Movement", as if it were a civil society organisation, is unacceptable.
  • I would like to ask our European friends why it is so difficult to understand our fight against the insidious terrorist organization FETO, which is a major threat to the rule of law and bureaucracy by infiltrating all the government bodies, especially the judiciary.
  • Some unfounded comments in the report which overshadow the role of the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures as an effective domestic remedy, contradict with the case-law of the ECtHR.
  • It should not be forgotten that in its Köksal v. Turkey ruling of 12 June 2017, the ECtHR accepted the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures as an effective domestic remedy.

Distinguished Members of the Press,

  • The fact that the Report does not adequately highlight our will to continue the political reform process, and the important steps taken in this context after the state of emergency was lifted, is not encouraging.
  • Following the lifting of the State of Emergency, the Reform Action Group (RAG), under the coordination of our Directorate, convened three times. The Ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Treasury and Finance and Interior met. In the last RAG meeting, chaired by President Erdoğan, our will towards the political reforms was highlighted at the highest level and the concrete steps to be taken were decided.
  • During the meeting, the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue Process was discussed and President Erdoğan gave instructions to accelerate the process.
  • Our efforts have been highlighted in the report, including those in the framework of working groups established for the remaining criteria and the negotiations for a cooperation agreement with Europol. As confirmed by the Report, new generation Turkish passports are compatible with the EU standards, which means one more criteria is met. We will continue working on the remaining 6 benchmarks out of 72.
  • We will continue to take significant steps in the area of the judiciary. We will announce the Judicial Reform Strategy tomorrow. Simultaneously, we are continuing our work to update the Human Rights Action Plan with an inclusive approach.
  • Following a restructuring work, the Turkish Justice Academy has been established.
  • In addition, the Declaration of the Turkish Judicial Ethics for judges and prosecutors, which is one of the GRECO recommendations, was announced. Many important steps were taken such as increasing the competences of the Human Rights Compensation Commission and the implementation of the "targeted time periods" in the judiciary.
  • For this reason, biased criticisms made on the functioning of the judiciary, freedom of expression and fight against corruption are unacceptable.
  • These developments indicate how determinedly Turkey went back to focusing on its reform agenda immediately after lifting the state of emergency. However, our country’s strong will is not mentioned in the Report, demonstrating the extent to which the European Commission is influenced by populism.
  • Criticisms towards the Presidential System which became effective upon the will of our people not even a year ago, reflect a prejudiced approach. The results of the implementation period are yet to be fully seen.  
  • I would like to emphasize once more that the legislative and executive bodies are separately elected in the Presidential System. The judiciary functions through independent courts.
  • The President does not have the power to issue a presidential decree in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms nor on issues regulated by law.  Furthermore, the President is rendered accountable in the new system.
  • The Report has also included points regarding the Presidential and Parliamentary elections held on 24 June 2018, as well as local elections of 31 March 2019.
  • It is underlined that both elections were marked by strong turnouts. However criticisms regarding the local elections held on 31 March are unacceptable for Turkey, which has a long-established democratic electoral tradition.
  • In the 31 March elections, an election observation mission was carried out by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, which stated that they were impressed by the competence of the Supreme Board of Elections.
  • Those committed to the rule of law should respect the decisions of the Board.
  • Turkey is a country that has proven its democratic maturity. The Supreme Board of Elections is an independent authority and all its decisions, no doubt, aim at reflecting the will of the voters.
  • The positive results of the ongoing cooperation with the EU on migration have been confirmed once again in the Report. Turkey has fulfilled its obligations arising from the 18 March Turkey-EU Statement and will continue to do so. As a country that hosts more than four million refugees, Turkey should be appreciated for its efforts. Nevertheless, considering the principle of burden sharing, we expect more support from the EU, particularly in the area of migration management.
  • Turkey also expects the EU side to fulfill its own commitments, especially in terms of Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme as well as acceleration and increase of funds for refugees in Turkey.

Distinguished Members of the Press,

  • The EU’s approach which contradicts with the international law and principles in the name of "solidarity with Member States" will only weaken and undermine the credibility of the EU.
  • In its evaluations on the Cyprus issue, the EU needs to take into account the realities, encourage a settlement and to refrain from turning bilateral problems into an EU issue. This is a must for its own impartiality, consistency and credibility.
  • However in the report, the EU, ignoring the Greek Cypriot Administration's actions, criticizes Turkey's activities of exploration for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Exploring hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean is a legitimate right for Turkey which stems from the international law.
  • As repeatedly emphasized, Turkey, with the longest coastline in the region, will pursue its fundamental rights and interests in its own continental shelf, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
  • Turkey has not and will never refrain from taking necessary steps in this regard.
  • I would like to particularly underline the following. Turkey supports a permanent settlement based on political equality between the two communities and bi-zonality in Cyprus.
  • It should not be forgotten that one sided views in the Report, based only on the arguments of the Greek Cypriot Administration, will not contribute to the settlement of the Cyprus issue, but will only serve to jeopardize stability in the eastern Mediterranean. The EU has made a mistake by including a bilateral issue i.e. the Cyprus issue, on the EU agenda. This mistake leads the way to other problems. If the EU’s impartial approach vis a vis the bilateral issues among Balkan countries, is also adopted in the Cyprus issue, this will contribute to a comprehensive settlement in the island. Membership solidarity can not overweigh fairness and does not solve the problem anyway.

Distinguished Members of the Press,

  • In the report, the high level of integration in terms of trade between Turkey and the EU, the progress achieved during the years 2017-2018, and the fact that the EU is Turkey's largest trade partner while Turkey is the EU's fifth have been stated.
  • Furthermore, it has been reported that the confidence in the markets has been restored thanks to the strict fiscal policy announced by our government,
  • However, regarding the economic criteria, we disagree with some points made.
  • Even though it has been stressed in the report that Turkey's economy has a good level of capacity to cope with the pressure of competitiveness and market forces within the Union, some temporary practices and measures pursued by Turkey in the recent years are criticized in terms of the criterion of a functioning market economy.
  • Turkey is well-integrated with the EU market in terms of both trade and investment. Therefore, Turkey is directly affected by the economic problems in the EU, as well as by the fluctuations in the global markets.
  • Structural problems experienced last year at the global level in particular have created an unfavourable environment for developing countries such as Turkey. However, Turkey has overcome this difficult period with minimum damage, by taking the necessary measures. Our government continues to take further steps in terms of structural reforms with the aim of increasing competition and improving the business and investment environment.
  • In fact, with respect to the EU acquis, some positive assessments in the report on the general level of alignment also indicate that Turkey is well advanced as a functioning market economy.
  • The Report confirms that Turkey has reached, in general, a good level of alignment in 22 Chapters and achieved progress at various levels in 20 Chapters during the past year.
  • It is inevitable that fluctuations may occur within a year, as alignment with the acquis cannot be expected to advance independently from the accession negotiations which are politically blocked. However, the level of alignment referred to in the Report is a clear indication of Turkey's commitment to aligning with the EU acquis, despite the political obstacles faced in the accession process.
  • Nonetheless, there is no explanation for not opening Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) to negotiations for the EU which claims to be a normative power based on common values.
  • Similarly, it is unjust to state that there is a backsliding in Chapter 30, External Relations, due to the Customs Union, while it is the EU which obstructs the updating of the Customs Union with Turkey.
  • Our country, though not an EU member state, has been in the Customs Union for the last 20-25 years, despite its asymmetrical structure. Here, I’d like to invite our European friends to think rationally and display common sense in this respect so that we can start negotiations on an issue of common interest i.e. the modernisation of the Customs Union.

In conclusion,

  • We expect the EU to display an anchorship role towards Turkey as it does to other candidate countries. Turkey does not wish to move away from the EU; on the contrary, would like to pave the way for the accession negotiations. Turkey would like to modernise the Customs Union, strengthen the cooperation with the EU in different areas and to further its accession process.
  • However, this cannot take place only with Turkey's will.  The EU should encourage this process by displaying a visionary leadership and an anchorship role.  From this perspective, the most significant drawback of the 2019 Enlargement Package, and particularly the Country Report on Turkey is that it does not refer to the EU's responsibilities and commitments in the process.
  • Overcoming the difficulties in EU-Turkey relations will result in significant gains not only for Turkey and the EU, but also for our region, international system and global peace.
  • Despite the fact that Turkey's accession to the EU is the most difficult and the most questioned one, once realised, it will be the most ever beneficial and meaningful membership both for Turkey and the EU, as well as for a wider geography.
  • In areas ranging from foreign policy to culture, from security to energy and from trade to peace, no other country’s membership is as valuable and meaningful for the people of Europe and its wider geography as Turkey’s membership to the EU.
  • Turkey’s accession is key to addressing the major challenges that the EU and Europe are facing today.  

Thank you.



[1] Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey


Updated: 01/06/2019 / Hit: 5,692