The EU Should Prioritise Human Rights in its Negotiations with Turkey

When European Union officials convene this week for an EU summit, they will have the opportunity to send a clear message. Turkey’s appalling human rights status should have ramifications for the country’s relationship with the EU.

EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen remarked emphatically during a visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, earlier this year: “Human rights are non-negotiable”. She also stated that the EU will never stop expressing worry about Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty aimed at combating violence against women. It was refreshing to hear a prominent EU official express these concerns after a previously restrained approach.

EU leaders should urge Turkey’s government to stop harassing opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists. They should press the government to reverse its decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and to follow the European Court of Justice’s rulings on Kavala and Demirtaş.

Officials from the EU should also demand proof of actual progress on rights, not just words. The feeble hint that “conversation” on rights is “part of the EU-Turkey partnership” was improper from EU leaders.

They should make respect for human rights a precondition for discussions about new trade agreements. Ankara has demanded that talks on modernizing the Customs Union begin only when substantial steps are done to ensure an independent judiciary and accountable institutions. 

An EU-Turkey agenda that fails to underline that human rights are essential preconditions would be a betrayal of its obligations as well as a betrayal of Turkey’s citizens.

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