ISTANBUL, TURKEY - The European Union is delaying its annual report on Turkey’s bid for membership, which is widely expected to be highly critical of Turkey’s human rights record. The report is being postponed until after next month's Turkish general election. This has prompted the idea that the EU is willing to use the human rights issue to enlisting Turkey's cooperation in alliance efforts to stem the tide of migrants and refugees entering Europe.
The annual EU report on Turkey's long-running campaign for accession - its drive to become a full member of the European political and economic alliance - is expected to sharply criticize Ankara's policies on freedom of expression and judicial independence. The ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, is fighting to restore its parliamentary majority in the November 1st election, and has been pressing hard for Brussels to delay publication.
Europe's decision to withhold the report temporarily is seen as evidence of Ankara's leverage over Brussels at a time when the EU is trying to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees entering Europe from Syria and other nations.
The chief researcher on Turkey for the group Human Rights Watch, Emma Sinclair Webb, sees this as a worrisome sign that the European Union is willing to relax its high standards on protection of human rights for political reasons.
"This does actually fuel our concern that the EU is soft-pedaling on Turkey’s extremely problematic human-rights record in order to secure a deal over the refugees," she said.
Human rights a major obstacle
European concern over Turkey’s human rights record has been one of a major obstacle to Ankara's membership campaign. However, at a time when human-rights watchers are warning of an alarming deterioration in Turkey, Brussels indicates it is willing to put Turkey’s bid back on track in return for Ankara’s cooperation on the refugee crisis.
Richard Howitt, spokesman of the socialist bloc in the European Parliament, says handling of the accession report has increased concerns about the European Commission's dealings with Turkey.
"The danger at the moment is that a very dirty deal is being done, either overtly or covertly, but one that concerns me and concerns many of us in Brussels," he said.
International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University says this has damaged the EU’s reputation in the eyes of many Turks.
"I think the EU has betrayed its own principles. The refugee crisis basically showed [that] when expediency demands it, hypocrisy is the rule, and commitment to principles is rather the exception. We are on our own and will have to take care of our own problems," said Ozel.
The EU already has been condemned for its willingness to deal with government leaders in Ankara ahead of the November vote. But with Turkish opinion polls indicating the election may produce no clear-cut winner, it seems Brussels may have to deal with a quite different group of officials from Ankara in future deliberations.