EU's Decade of Flip-Flopping Serves Turkey Badly, Says Roth

  • EU `pulling its punches' on rights regression, HRW chief says
  • Turkey's membership bid revived amid EU concern on refugees

The European Union is treating Turkey with an inconsistency that’s liable to stoke human rights violations in the aspiring member of the bloc, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth said in an interview in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Europe is so preoccupied with trying to persuade Turkey to do something about the refugee crisis that it’s “pulling its punches” about intensified crackdowns on the media and judiciary, he said. The present situation inverts the mistakes of 10 years ago, when Turkey was making strides towards harmonizing with EU norms and that progress was neither recognized nor rewarded.

The reopening of long-stalled accession talks could be an important motor of reforms, he said. Yet "if the sudden message is we’ll ‘arrange’ the EU process by lowering the standards for admittance, that’s a disastrous signal to send at a very dangerous time," Roth said.

Accession talks recently reopened after German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to Istanbul, amid domestic pressure from EU citizens to stem the flow of migrants traveling through Turkey. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said in a Jan. 17 interview that Turkey is committed to doing “whatever it takes” to become an EU member.

Turkey has borne the brunt of the flood of refugees fleeing Syria, hosting more than 2 million people. The EU is asking Turkey to step up policing of its borders in return for $3 billion in aid and the acceleration of visa-free travel arrangements. Roth says that’s happening despite the present “reversal” of rights gains Erdogan made earlier in his tenure.

A spokesman for the EU Commission’s department of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship had no immediate comment.