Sunday, March 7, 2010

Helene Flautre: How the EU Has Impeded Judicial Reform

Helen Flautre, Co-Chairwoman of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee

Assessing the status of accession negotiations in an op/ed published in Today's Zaman, Helene Flautre strongly criticizes the European Council's failure to release the results of the European Commission's screening of Turkey's judiciary, which contains the details of steps Turkey needs to take to align its judiciary with EU standards laid out in the the EU acquis' chapter on the judiciary. Justice Minister Sadullah Erin criticized the EU's inaction when he spoke before the European Parliament last month. From Flautre's column:
It is a sine qua non of the rule of law that, in addition to the existence of laws, these laws should be reviewable by impartial and independent courts. But it is precisely on this topic that the polarization of Turkey resurfaces. The judicial reforms proposed by the government with a view to making the courts “impartial and independent” are perceived by the opposition as an operation to undermine the independence of the courts. I think readers will ask themselves, as I did, whether the EU can act as a point of reference or a guide and even a sort of impartial arbitrator in this atmosphere of contradictions. Moreover, there is already a chapter dedicated to this area. But unfortunately, I want to finish this article by pointing to a fact that will disappoint my readers.

We had invited Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to the latest meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). I couldn’t believe what I heard from him, both during our conversation before the meeting and during the meeting. The minister was complaining that, despite opening of the 23rd acquis chapter on judicial reforms to negotiations, the EU has not sent the results of the screening process to Ankara although it was completed five years ago. The European Commission, on the other hand, says that the screening was completed five years ago, and sent to the council, i.e., to member countries. In other words, the screening results have been stuck somewhere between the European Commission and the European Council and have not been taken out of a drawer for the last five years. If this was about the opening of a chapter, it would be possible to talk about a “political” maneuver from any member country. No, it was about the failure to communicate the results of the screening process to the candidate country. The Turkish justice minister justifiably asks: “When I introduce the judicial reform package to Parliament, if the deputies ask me, ‘Are you sure that the EU really wants us to make these reforms?’ then what can I say to them?” It is not understandable why the EU would waste the chance to be a model, a reference and most importantly, an institutional player in Turkey’s becoming a democratic country governed by the rule of law. For this reason, it is not surprising that some EU politicians are dwarfed when they dare to measure themselves against Barack Obama. The EU shows signs of weakness in effectively using the tools it has, let alone being a leading player in international relations. I cannot keep myself from asking what the reasons might be for our failure to convey the screening results and our expectations regarding judicial reforms to Turkey, as well as about the “disagreement” between the European Commission and the European Council on the screening results. But, do we, as the European Parliament, perform our duty of review and tackle such institutional problems? I can understand being generous in our criticisms against Turkey, but I have difficulty accepting the fact that Brussels does not engage in self-critique in the slightest way.

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