President, Honourable Members,
First, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the European Parliament for its strong support for our comprehensive agenda with Turkey as stated in the Resolution on the 2015 report on Turkey which was adopted in April.
The EU has demonstrated its willingness to re-energise relations with Turkey across the board, based on our firm principles and criteria. We have delivered on our side, in terms of:
- Political engagement/high level dialogues on energy, foreign policy, security & counter-terrorism, economy & trade,
- in terms of financial support (the Facility for Refugees) to give refugees a perspective and alleviate migratory pressures
- and work towards visa-free travel on the basis of the well-known benchmarks.
This re-energised engagement with Turkey is not a one-way street. It is based on joint interests and pursued through an open, constructive dialogue. And it must be viewed in a wider regional context, including the very serious developments in Syria.
Turkey remains a key partner in managing migration. Turkey has done much to help refugees in need of protection, shelter, food and health care. We applaud this strong commitment.
But at the same time, Honourable Members,
This is not a blank cheque. There are a number of very serious developments affecting the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Turkey, as well as the situation in the South East of Turkey. We have been very clear about these issues in the Commission’s 2015 Report on Turkey, and you in the European Parliament’s Resolution.
The Commission is thus seriously concerned about the recent Turkish Parliament decision to permit the lifting of parliamentary immunity from prosecution of a large number of Members of Parliament.
HR/VP Mogherini and I jointly made clear in our statement of 20 May: immunity must apply to all on a non-discriminatory basis. This is the Commission’s clear and consistent position.
Any decisions on lifting immunity must be based on the merits of each specific case, according to transparent criteria and not subject to political considerations.
The Commission has repeatedly stressed that, overall, the framework for parliamentary immunity should include specific and objective criteria for taking decisions on lifting immunity.
We have also systematically highlighted the problematic interpretation of the legal framework and the Constitution in particular, which continue to pose a risk to the freedom of expression of Members of Parliament in Turkey.
Let me also underline that any alleged wrongdoing or alleged crimes committed by MPs must be subject to due process. The right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law, and key to ensuring public confidence in the judiciary.
It is the responsibility of the relevant political and judicial authorities in Turkey to ensure that this right is respected – not just for the people concerned, but for the broader stability of the country. The rule of law is the very basis for Turkey’s political and economic progress!
The Commission will therefore continue following this particular issue very closely. We will also raise these important matters at our upcoming high level contacts with Turkey, and we renew our call on the Turkish government to generally re-engage in reforms in line with European standards.
In support of these reform efforts, the Commission is currently working at an accelerated pace on preparatory documents for chapters 23 and 24 – of course without prejudice to the positions of Member States in accordance with the existing rules.
We believe that defining benchmarks in the key areas of the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security is the best lever to convince Turkey to carry on the work and realize its stated goal to move closer to the European Union.
I am grateful for the strong support of this House in this endeavour.
Thank you for your attention.