European Union and Council of Europe to Erdoğan: Do not undermine the judiciary!

Selçuk Gültaşlı, with Today’s Zaman daily, reports from Brussels that all eyes of the EU and the CoE are now on the deepening crisis in Turkey, where PM Erdoğan is raising the stakes to curb the powers of the judiciary and subordinate it to the political executive:
The European Union and the Council of Europe have both criticized the Turkish government’s increasingly draconian measures to cover up an ongoing corruption scandal, with both the EU and the council making critical statements after the government announced that it has proposed an amendment to revamp the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which was already revamped with a hotly contested referendum back in September of 2010.
While the EU has warned the Turkish government not to undermine the judiciary, the Council of Europe issued a stern warning stating that the government proposal to amend the HSYK would be a “serious setback.”

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said via a tweet that the independence of the judiciary would be at risk with the new proposals.

The tweet, which was later issued as a statement, said, “Proposals to curb powers of High Council of Judges & Prosecutors represent serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey.”

The EU Commission, in a written statement, also warned the Turkish government for the fourth time in three weeks since the scandal erupted on Dec.17. European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle once again raised his concerns over the removal of 350 police officers on Monday.

A statement by Füle’s spokesperson, Peter Stano, underlined that any action which could undermine the effectiveness of investigations into the corruption allegations should be avoided.

“We are examining the draft from the perspective of the need to ensure the independence, impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary per Turkey’s commitment to the political criteria for accession to the EU. As underlined in the past by the Commission, the 2010 constitutional amendments established a HCJP that broadly meets the European standards and guarantees the independence of the judiciary,” said Stano in the statement.

Stano also highlighted they were becoming increasingly worried about the ability of the judiciary and the police to follow up on the corruption allegations, implicitly implying that the recent actions of the government have crippled their abilities.

“The recent steps (removing, reassigning or firing police officers and investigators) are a matter of concern. These steps could undermine the current investigations and capacity of the judiciary and the police to investigate matters in an independent manner.

“Right from the start [Dec. 17] we have expressed concern at actions that could reduce or undermine the capacity of the judiciary and the police, acting on instructions of the judiciary, to thoroughly investigate allegations of wrongdoing, including corruption, ensure accountability and act in an independent manner,” said Stano.,

Stano also reiterated the EU’s concerns on the large number of police removals in the wake of the corruption scandal.

“The removal of a large number of police officers from their posts during the past three weeks, culminating in the removal of 350 police in Ankara on Monday’s night, is a matter of concern due to its possible impact on the independence, impartiality and efficiency of current investigations,” he said.

The spokesperson also pointed to Füle’s statement on Dec. 27 in which he urged Turkey, a candidate country, to commit to the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law. The Dec. 27 statement also called on the Turkish government to take all the necessary measures to ensure that the allegations of wrongdoing are addressed “without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner.”

Both the EU and the council had supported the HSYK reform which was achieved by a referendum on Sept. 12, 2010.

In its progress report published last October, the EU had praised the HSYK and called on the government not to change its structure.

“The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors continued with the implementation of its 2012-16 strategic plan, broadly promoting the independence, impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary,” the report said.

However, the EU criticized the role of the minister and his undersecretary in the council, stating: “Criticisms of the legislation on the High Council, including of the role given to the Minister of Justice and to the Under-Secretary of the Ministry, have, however, not been addressed as yet.”

The EU, in its progress report, called on the government to further reinforce the council.

“In any constitutional reform, Turkey needs to consolidate the achievements of the 2010 constitutional amendments, in particular that more than half of the members of the Council are judges chosen by their peers from all levels of the judiciary, and address the shortcomings such as the role given to the Minister of Justice and to the Undersecretary of the Ministry.”

The EU had praised the reforms of the HSYK, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said was a mistake, by underlining that the predictability and transparency of the decisions of the board had been further strengthened.