Almost 15 years down the European Union membership processing lane, Turkey has stumbled over a snag. The European Commission, which is the EU’s executive branch, has accused Ankara of "serious backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights."
And on his side, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a televised address from his palace in Ankara, hit back at this annual progress review with a quick and strategic revelation of new judicial reforms.
Expressing Turkish commitment to become a member of the EU, President Erdogan said: "We implement the reforms not because the EU wants them but because our nation needs them."
"Turkey has continued to move further away from the European Union," the Commission says in its non-word mincing report on Ankara's progress towards membership, a path formally undertaken in 2005. "Negotiations have ... effectively come to a standstill," it adds.
Reports from Ankara and Brussels say this is follows years of criticism over a crackdown on dissidents and the jailing of thousands of people said to be linked to a 2016 coup attempt, Turkey blames on self-exiled US-based cleric and scholar Fethullah Gulen. Gulen very strongly denies this.
President Erdogan also said that the judicial reform package, which was designed after consultation with legal experts and human rights groups, aimed to "strengthen our nation's sense of justice.”
Erdogan, who has been accused of concentrating power over the judiciary in his own hands, said the reforms had been drafted "within the framework of enhancing the independence and impartiality of justice" and to "effectively protect the right to a fair trial".
"We have to wait for the relevant concrete draft laws to be tabled at the parliament in order to make a detailed evaluation and assessment of the strategy and roadmap," said the chairman of the Turkish Human Rights Association chairman, Ozturk Turkdogan, --one of the groups consulted – said.
Arrested in a protest march in 2017, he called for a "new and democratic constitution based on the principle of separation of powers founded on the rule of law." Turkey ranked 109th out of 126 countries in the World Justice Project's 2019 Rule of Law Index.
Since the failed coup, Turkey has jailed more than 77,000 people suspected to have links with Gulen’s movement, Hizmet. Those who have been sacked or suspended from their employment on the same premise total about 150,000. These include civil servants, teachers, journalists, police officers and military personnel.
Among those imprisoned or who lost their jobs have been more than 4,460 judges and prosecutors, according to the Turkey Purge website, which collates figures from government announcements.