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European Commission says Turkey backsliding on democracy, rule of law

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Turkey's bid to join the EU has been frozen for years after having launched membership talks in 2005

The European Commission’s annual report on Turkey’s long-stalled EU membership bid criticized on Wednesday its “serious backsliding” on democratic standards, the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.

The report by the European Union’s executive arm said that structural deficiencies in Turkey’s judicial system remained unaddressed despite several judicial reforms.

“The lack of objective, merit-based, uniform, and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors remains a source of concern,” the Commission said.

The report is meant to update Turkey’s progress towards meeting standards for European Union membership, and could strain ties that are already troubled over immigration and, more recently, the war between Israel and the Hamas militant group in Gaza.

Turkey’s bid to join the EU has been frozen for years after having launched membership talks in 2005. It has dismissed such criticism from the Commission as biased in years past.

The foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Commission said Turkey did not comply with the principles of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms in its fight against terrorism. “Anti-terror measures need to be proportionate,” the report said.

The report also criticised Turkey for not implementing a ruling of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that called for the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was detained in 2017 over attempting to oust the government.

The Commission said failure to comply with the Kavala ruling showed it has been “drifting away from the standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms to which it has subscribed as a member of the Council of Europe”.

President Tayyip Erdogan said that the ECHR ruling no longer applied after Kavala was jailed for life over anti-government protests in 2013.

Gender-based violence and hate speech against minorities and LGBT community remain a serious concern, the report added.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but the government toughened its stance on LGBT freedoms in recent months.

In its 2023 Enlargement Package, the European Commission also recommended to begin membership talks with Ukraine.

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