EU recommends Turkish accession be kept on hold over human rights concerns

Commission wants Albania and Macedonia to start talks on joining EU

EU high commissioner for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini: “The western Balkans countries are European, and will be part of the European Union.” Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

EU high commissioner for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini: “The western Balkans countries are European, and will be part of the European Union.” Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

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Turkish accession to the EU should remain on hold because of concerns about human rights abuses, the European Commission has recommended.

Turkey continues to take large strides away from the EU,” enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn warned at a press conference in Strasbourg.

In its annual report on the state of play on enlargement of the union – comprising progress reports on Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Turkey, each at a different stage of the process – the commission says Albania and Macedonia should now start EU accession talks.

EU high commissioner for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini emphasised that the enlargement process was ongoing. “The western Balkans countries are European, and will be part of the European Union,” she said.

It is the first time Albania has got the nod and comes 15 years after it signed its first EU “stabilisation” agreement and 10 years after it joined Nato. It will be the first opening of any enlargement discussions in over five years.

Vetoed by Greece

The commission has been saying Macedonia was ready to start talks since 2009 but the process had been vetoed by Greece in a dispute over the state’s name, seen by Athens as reflecting a territorial aspiration to parts of northern Greece. There are hopes that the two capitals are close to an agreement on the issue.

The EU is holding a special western Balkans summit in May in Sofia, although it will explicitly not discuss enlargement. But the union in February suggested that Serbia and Montenegro, with whom talks are currently under way, should both be ready to join the EU in 2025. 

Preparations for the summit have been complicated, however, by the continuing refusal of five EU states, led by Spain and Greece, not to recognise Kosovo.

The EU has opened 12 chapters of the Serbia accession negotiations but the report warns that “while progress has been made on the rule of law, Serbia now needs to strengthen its efforts and deliver more results”.

It says Serbia needs to make progress in particular in “creating an enabling environment for freedom of expression, in strengthening the independence and overall efficiency of the judicial system, and in making sustainable progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime”.

Rule of law

With regard to Turkey, the report says respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms is an essential obligation that it must meet as a candidate country.

“The continuing negative trend in these areas do not justify the opening of new negotiating chapters in the accession process,” the report says.

Turkey started accession talks in 2005. They went slowly, then ground to a halt two years ago following a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his subsequent crackdown.

The report urges Turkey to lift its state of emergency and speaks of “serious backsliding” on issues such as jailing journalists, judges and opposition MPs.

But the draft report commends Turkey’s “outstanding efforts” in sheltering almost four million refugees and confirms that the EU wants to renew a deal with Mr Erdogan to stop them from coming to Greece, in return for substantial EU aid.

On Albania, the exhaustive report says reform of the public administration “has been consolidated, with a view to enhancing its professionalism and depoliticisation”.

Further actions have been taken to “reinforce the independence, efficiency, and accountability of judicial institutions, particularly through advancing in the implementation of a comprehensive justice reform”.

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