On 14 October 2009, the Commission published its 2009 Progress Report for Turkey. The report covers a review of the progress made by Turkey in the last 12 months and the main political reviews of Turkish domestic issues are given a general framework to understand what has happened in Turkey for 12 months in terms of accession process.

While the investigations into Ergenekon, the alleged criminal network, are seen as a positive development by the Commission, which says that "[t]his case is an opportunity for Turkey to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law," the case for closure of the Democratic Society Party, which is still pending before the Constitutional Court, is criticized in terms of democracy and the rule of law.

According to the report, the political and societal debate on constitutional reform should be continued, but a consensus, which is important to go a step further, is needed.

Another point in the report is the efforts of the President in the confrontational political environment to reach a consensus on the key points in the reform process, these are seen as quite positive.

In terms of public administration, the report says that "considerable further efforts are needed, in particular on the modernisation of civil service." The Armed Forces are also criticised in the report and it is argued that "the armed forces have continued to exercise undue political influence via formal and informal mechanisms."

The reforms process in the area of judiciary is encouraged by the Commission; however, the report also points out that "these efforts need to be continued, and concerns remain with regard to the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the judiciary, such as the composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and the establishment of the regional courts of appeal."

In the report, Turkey is criticised in terms of fighting corruption. The report asserts that "Turkey needs to finalise an anti-corruption strategy and to develop a track record of investigations, indictments, prosecutions and convictions."

The report argues there are positive developments in line with international human rights law, but according to the Commission, "further efforts are needed in strengthening the institutional framework on human rights, in particular as regards the establishment of an independent human rights institution and of an Ombudsman." Moreover, despite the comprehensive legal measures against torture and ill-treatment, there are many problems in practice to implement zero-tolerance against torture policies. Additionally, the report says that access to justice is not a problem in urban areas but "there have been problems in rural areas."

The report also points out that Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code is no longer systematically used against freedom of expression but "Turkish law does not sufficiently guarantee freedom of expression in line with the ECHR and the ECtHR case law." The high fines against Dogan Media Holding is also discussed under the freedom of expression issue and according to the report, "the high fines imposed by the revenue authority potentially undermine the economic viability of the Group and therefore affect freedom of the press in practice."

The report criticizes Turkey about the weak measures to protect women’s and children’s rights and there should be active policies and concrete measures. For example, "efforts need to be stepped up further in all areas related to children’s rights, including administrative capacity, health, education, the juvenile justice system and child labour."

Another criticism against Turkey is about labour rights and trade unions. The Commission underlines that "the current legal framework, including the constitutional provisions on trade union rights“ is not in line with EU standards and ILO Conventions, especially in regards to the "right to organise, the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively, for either the private or public sectors."

The minority policy of Turkey is not viewed as enough, and according to the report, "full respect for and protection of language, culture and fundamental rights, in accordance with European standards have yet to be fully achieved." Contrary to this policy, progress in the cultural rights are deemed as quite positive. For example, TRT6, a Kurdish broadcasting TV channel, is given as a good example.

The situation in Eastern and South-Eastern Turkey is specifically discussed in the report and according to the report, "despite continuing terrorist violence; the government has opened a wide-ranging public debate -covering cultural, political and economic matters- on the Kurdish issue." However, the Commission thinks that concrete measures should be followed with these attempts.

The recent domestic political condition of Turkey is clearly investigated in the report and it is apparent that this report will directly or indirectly affect the following domestic policies in Turkey.

By Yilmaz KAPLAN (JTW)

Journal of Turkish Weekly