Strasbourg – 22 November 2016
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Mr President, Honourable Members,
Once again we gather to discuss Turkey, and rightly so. Our relationship with Turkey is at a crossroads, because Turkey is at a crossroads.
On the night of July 15th, during the attempted coup d’État, we stood on the side of Turkey’s democracy and of the democratic institutions. We stood on the side of the Turkish people, who took on the streets and confronted the tanks. We stood on the side of the over two hundred innocents who were shot down that night. We stood on the side of the parliament as it was being bombed, and of the Turkish parties – all of them – that spoke against the coup and in support of democracy.
We supported the Turkish democracy on July 15th, and it is exactly the Turkish democracy we support today – as we see the leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party – a legitimate party in the Turkish parliament – arrested and imprisoned.
The arrest of the co-chairs of HDP, as well as the detention of several of its deputies, adds to a long list of extremely worrying developments. These include renewed considerations to reinstate the death penalty, continued restrictions on the freedom of expression, the closure of media outlets and arrests of journalists, academics, the suspension of thousands of civil servants, with a very worrying situation for the judicial system.
We have always been clear that the Turkish authorities have a legitimate right, to hold the perpetrators of the coup and of terrorist attacks accountable for their actions. We have also called on all political parties to unequivocally condemn terrorist violence.
At the same time, we know that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is the strongest antidote to extremism and terrorism. Any allegation of wrongdoing must be established via transparent procedures, in all individual cases. Individual criminal liability can only be established with full respect for the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and the right of every individual to a fair trial.
These are positions we all agreed on, in the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday last week. And all Foreign Ministers have agreed on the importance to maintain a unified and clear EU position, in line with our declaration on behalf of all 28, issued on 8 November.
Our relations with Turkey have reached a crucial point. I believe the best way to strengthening Turkey’s democracy – the most effective way – is by engaging with it, by keeping channels open.
The accession process has achieved important results in many fields, from the energy sector, to both our economies and business, to the talks on Cyprus - let me stress how important talks on Cyprus are for us all. Turkey seems to be heading towards constitutional reform. Let me stress that it should serve as a platform to strengthen checks and balances, strengthen participatory democracy, and to address the Kurdish issue. As we have made it clear on many occasions, the EU stands ready to fully support the country to achieve these goals.
The work goes on – and I have recently met with Turkey’s Europe Minister Ömer Çelik, but also with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. Cooperation with the Council of Europe is particularly important, and I hope Turkey will address the concerns of the Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights.
What is crucial in the short-term is a swift, fair and independent domestic redress mechanism to be in place. Failing this, we are going to see a flood of cases in front of the European Court of Human Rights. I know talks are ongoing with the Council of Europe to address this issue, I hope this work will bring results.
There is much the European Union and Turkey can do together starting with Cyprus or against terrorism, for our economies and our business, on refugees for the future of Syria and for the stability of the Caucasus. And in all these fields, we both need constant reciprocal dialogue.
I always say that foreign policy is about building win-win solutions. If the accession process came to an end, we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario. Europe would lose an important channel for dialogue, and leverage, with Turkey. Turkey would lose a lot. And we would all lose an opportunity for greater friendship and cooperation among our peoples.
In this sprit, we should also ask ourselves which tools and instruments we have at our disposal in order to increase, and not reduce, our leverage on Turkey's reforms and on its society.
In order to do so, we need full clarity from our Turkish partners on what they want. In that regard, it's clear that moving from rhetoric to action on the issue of the death penalty would be a clear signal that Turkey does not want to be a member of the European family, neither a member of the Council of Europe, which it is now, nor of the EU. Membership means sharing the values Europe stands for – capital punishment is for sure not one of them.
Some say that Turkey has to choose between the West and the East. I don’t agree. Turkey can and should stay true to its nature, as a bridge between worlds and cultures. If Turkey moves further away from our European Union and from democracy, it would lose part of its own heritage and identity, and culture, and power. This would be in no one’s interest, and certainly not in the interest of the Turkish people.
The last time I was in Turkey, we all agreed that we need to talk more to each other, and a little bit less about each other. This is the attitude we need, both on the part of the Turkish government and inside our Union. Looking forward to hearing your views, both me and Commissioner Hahn will be listening carefully to your interventions. Note presence of almost all group leaders, which I appreciate. Thank you.
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