Mr President, at the core of the accession process is the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights. Free and pluralistic media are an essential component of any democracy. I am therefore deeply concerned about what happened last Sunday when media outlets were raided by the Turkish police and critical journalists were arrested. At times when Turkey was already coming in for criticism about press freedom and judicial independence, this counts as another blow. Should the detainees be charged with alleged wrongdoings, we expect that a due process will be conducted whereby the principle of presumption of innocence will prevail, and an independent, transparent investigation will be conducted.
Last week I visited Turkey as the European Parliament’s rapporteur. There was a clear understanding from the side of the government that further reforms are needed. Therefore I welcomed the statement by the government that the EU accession process, further democratisation and the Kurdish settlement process are its first priorities. The fact that we are concerned about the deteriorating situation of fundamental rights and the rule of law in the country actually shows our commitment to the accession process. But in the end it is the Turkish Government which sits behind the steering wheel.
The events of 14 December caused serious concerns in the EU about Turkish willingness to make progress in the field of democratic reforms. In the weeks to come, therefore, it is up to Ankara to convince us that it is still truly committed to moving closer to the EU and its core values.
The accession process is a unique opportunity for Turkey to develop a strong pluralistic democratic system with solid institutions for the benefit of all citizens of Turkey. However, a crackdown on critical media is moving Turkey further away from these core European values, and that is bad news for anyone who is a friend of Turkey.