Brussels – The European Commission on Tuesday accused Turkey of curtailing freedom of expression and undermining the independence of its judiciary.
The commission made the allegation in a report, which is an annual package on progress by countries aspiring to join the European Union.
The report was expected in October, and the commission had been accused of delaying its publication beyond the Nov. 1 elections in Turkey.
But, EU’s executive had argued that it waited for the most suitable time to publish the report.
Turkey has been seeking EU membership since 1987, but the negotiations have frequently ground to a halt, mostly because of Franco-German opposition and tensions with Cyprus.
The report says that in 2015, “the pace of reforms slowed down” in Turkey, blaming it in part to “protracted elections and the continued political divide.”
It stated that the year also saw “an overall negative trend in the respect for rule of law and fundamental rights” in Turkey.
It slammed what it described as “increased pressure” on the media in conjunction with the November elections and limitations on the use of the internet.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
According to the report, Turkey passed new laws on the rule of law, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly that ran against European standards.
“There was significant backsliding in the areas of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
“Most recently, the escalation of violence in the east and south-east since July gave rise to serious concerns over human rights violations,” it said.
It also noted “significant shortcomings” in Turkey’s judiciary, saying that independence of the judiciary and principle of separation of powers had been undermined since 2014.
It added that judges and prosecutors had been under strong political pressure.
The EU had nevertheless been controversially working to secure Turkey’s help in stemming the flow of refugees making their way to Europe as much transit through Turkey.
Other EU membership hopefuls for which the commission issued progress reports on Tuesday were Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
However, Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, had said that he did not expect any new country to join the bloc before 2019. (dpa/NAN)