In 2018, negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession the European Union (EU) came to a standstill as no further chapters could have been discussed for the foreseeable future. However, both parties maintained an amicable relationship, working toward a future where they could collaborate on common interests. In March of 2021, the European Commission expressed its readiness to cooperate with Turkey on joint areas such as counterterrorism, food security, migration trade and energy. To date, Turkey remains a key partner of the EU in its facilitated dialogue between Russia and Ukraine in the agreement on the export of grains. However, tension in the Eastern Mediterranean remains high with the EU urging Turkey to encourage stability within the region.
This summary discusses the 2022 EU Enlargement policy report as communicated by the European Commission in its 2022 Enlargement package. The report tackles multiple areas in which the EU has expressed concern such as fundamental freedoms and democracy in Turkey. The summary will also relay the report’s findings when it comes to education, culture and employment policies. All of which reflect on Turkey’s accession to the EU.
- Fundamental Rights
Freedom of expression and association
Of the most crucial rights that spark controversy in Turkey, freedom of expression has been under scrutiny by the government of Turkey which did not go unnoticed. The 2022 Turkey report states that currently Turkey is in the early stages of taking a European-based human right approach when it comes to the dissemination of opposition voices and freedom of expression. Many instances regarding criminal cases and convictions of journalists, students, lawyers and human rights defenders continue in the country.
For instance, the legislative environment regarding the internet, anti-terrorism and the Criminal Code limit the exercise of freedom of expression. There have been reports of selective and arbitrary application of legislation raise concerns regarding the rule of law and the right to a fair trial. The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers strongly urged the Turkish authorities to consider changes to the Criminal Code as many cases related to freedom of expression have been lodged to the European Court of Human Rights.
As for freedom of assembly and association, the report states that there had been some serious backsliding by the Turkish government as implementation and legislation are not in line with the Turkish constitution, European standards or the international conventions which Turkey is party to. Many human rights defenders have been detained or arrested due to their exercise of their freedom of association. This included prominent non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Association which were subjected to police raids.
Women’s and Children’s rights
It had been evident that the regression concerning the right of women and girls in Turkey has had tangible effects in the country. The presidential decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence had been met with serious backlash from the public. Turkey is in the process of implementing The Fourth National Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women (2021-2025) yet, there had been 339 killing of women in 2021 alone. Turkey lacks a robust system for data collection to assess the nature of this issue. There are numerous concerns regarding women’s right as hate speech increased against independent women organizations and women’s participation in politics and decision making is low. On the other hand, some penalties were increased for violence against women who are or were the spouse of the perpetrator in July 2021.
In the area of the rights of the child, Turkey needs to improve its juvenile justice system. There has been reports of continuous juvenile arrests on charges of membership to terrorist organizations and often, detained in non-juvenile institutions. Turkey had shown limited progress in tackling and reducing core issues related to child marriages and gender-based violence against children. Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 have been tangible when it came to the decreased education of the Roma children.
Rights of persons with disabilities
Turkey has started its National Action Plan on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which will be its implementation tool for its 2030 Barrier Free Vision Document. Turkey needs an independent implementation and monitoring framework as required by the UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is also true for mental health and Turkey does not have a concrete foundation for mental health monitoring and implementation in the country. Moreover, community-based care services, including foster care and adoption, need to be expanded for minors with disabilities who are in need of state protection.
- Education and culture
In Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Turkey, the net enrolment rate (NER) for preschool education largely decreased from 71.22 % in 2019-2020 to 56.89 % in 2020-2021 and the combined NER for Turkish children between 3 and 5 years old decreased from 41.78 % to 28.35 %. It is important to note that as the country’s efforts to improve accessibility to persons with disabilities, the number of students in special education increased from 425 774 in 2020 to 425 816 in 2021. For persons with special needs, Turkey continued to invest towards inclusive education instead of segregated settings, yet the school closures due to COVID-19 have affected the access of such students to education. It is worth to note that Turkey is in an advanced stage in implementing the Bologna measures despite the disparity in quality of education between Turkey’s 207 higher education institutions.
In 2022, Turkey had declared the year as the Year of Youth Participation. Turkey also participates in the European Year of the Youth. Turkish youth organisations showed high levels of interest in the Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes, which continue to be major sources of funding for international youth exchange activities in Turkey.
In the post-pandemic era, Turkey’s cultural sector suffered from inadequate and unsustainable funding. Non-governmental cultural actors were hindered by the insufficient cultural infrastructure, lack of professionalism and limited management capacities. Also, the number of books obtaining the warning “harmful for minors/ +18” has increased. Six publications were declared “obscene” in 2021. The books were focused on gender-based rights, gender identity or included LGBTQI characters, and such measures pose a threat to freedom of publication.
- Social policy and employment
The labour market situation in Turkey has slightly improved. The employment rate (15+) increased to 45.2 % in 2021 from 42.7 % in 2020. The rate increased for men to 62.8 % from 59.4 %, for women to 28 % from 26.2 %. Unemployment rate (15+) decreased from 13.1 % to 12 % in 2021. The unemployment rate for women remained almost at the same level with 14.7 %. The youth unemployment rate (15-24) decreased from 24.9 % in 2020 to 22.6 % in 2021. The rate of young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) aged 15-24 decreased from 28.4 % in 2020 to 24.7 % in 2021; however for women, the rate is still quite high at 32.4 %. Turkey adopted its first National Youth Employment Strategy and Action Plan (2021-2023) in October 2021.
In the area of social inclusion and social protection, Turkey still requires a policy framework for poverty reduction. The accelerating inflation levels pose risks for vulnerable segments of the population. It is worth to note that social assistance payments amounted to TRY 97.8 billion or 1.74% of the GDP. Furthermore, Turkey needs a solid strategy and action plan for non-discrimination in employment and social policy. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is not prohibited by law. The role of Human Rights and Equality Institution (HREI) and the Ombudsman remained limited in combating discrimination in employment. Employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector is reported to be challenging, partly due to limited physical accessibility, prejudices and skills mismatch. Efforts are needed to prevent discrimination for LGBTIQ in employment and social policy.
In employment and social policy, the gender gap in the labour market has remained high. Legislation needs to be improved for a better work-life balance. To achieve this, half-time work allowances were paid to 4,841 beneficiaries in 2021. The employment rate for women (18-64 age group) in case there are children in the household remained below the EU average. Women’s employment is hindered due to insufficient access to quality and affordable formal care services and the gender bias in caring responsibilities and discriminatory stereotypes. Some programmes supporting employment of mothers with children were terminated by the end of 2021.
In conclusion, Turkey lacks concrete implementation of polices regarding its fundamental rights such the freedom of speech and association. The situation concerning social policy, discrimination and the juvenile justice system need to have proper monitoring framework. There was some progress in terms early education and youth participation in the EU programmes. Still, Turkey needs to align its goals with its intent to accede the European Union.
Written by Ruwaifa Al-Riyami
Image Source : https://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/en/work-document/turkeys-10-years-of-eu-accession-negotiations-no-end-in-sight/
European Commission, (2022). Türkiye 2022 Report: 2022 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy. European Commission. https://neighbourhood-enlargement.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2022-10/T%C3%BCrkiye%20Report%202022.pdf