Tension with the EU over Internet Law increases

In a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu amid increasing criticism over a controversial Internet law, top European Union officials urged Turkey on Monday to have “early consultations” with the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), regarding legislation that might affect Turkey’s accession talks.
“Today, we have discussed the recent developments in Turkey. We have underlined the need for Turkey as a candidate country in accession negotiations to engage in early consultations with the EC on all laws related to both the accession process and the political criteria,” Stefan Füle, European Union Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, said after talks with Davutoğlu in Brussels, according to a statement from the EU Commission. “We discussed this in particular in light of the recent exchanges on the importance of an independent judiciary and the Internet law adopted by [the Turkish] Parliament last week,” he added.

A controversial new Internet law granting the government’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) the power to block websites violating privacy without seeking permission from a court was passed in Parliament last week. The measures also force Internet providers to keep records of users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities upon request. The law, which is seen by experts as a tool for the government to censor the Internet as well as profile Internet users, also draws increasing criticism from the EU. The European Commission and the European Parliament (EP) have criticized the Internet law in separate statements, saying that the law has raised concerns that the government is tightening its grip on the Internet and people’s access to information.

“With regard to the Internet law, the Commission agreed to share in writing a number of the concerns identified, regarding both compatibility with the acquis and EU best practices,” Füle said.

Füle’s statement followed a meeting he attended with Davutoğlu, Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. A press meeting planned after the talks was canceled at the last minute, reportedly due to the Ashton’s busy schedule.

According to a report by state-owned Andolu news agency released on its website on Monday, Ashton’s spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said the briefing had been canceled due to the Turkey-EU meeting lasting long than expected. Since Ashton needed to attend a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, the press briefing with Davutoğlu had to be canceled, she said.

Diplomatic sources speaking to Today’s Zaman also confirmed that the briefing didn’t take place because of technical problems. “The meeting between Turkish and European officials finished 45 minutes later than expected,” the source said.

Turkey has been gradually expressing its uneasiness over the EU officials’ statements expressing concern. In such an effort, Turkey first urged the EU to be more cautious while making statements on Turkey’s internal affairs, especially those with political aspects. Çavuşoğlu invited his EU colleagues to find true and exact information on the developments before releasing statements.

But the EU insisted on its mandate to comment on laws passed in Parliament. “It is the Commission’s duty to monitor the developments and express concerns when these are justified and to also offer help and support to ensure compatibility with the acquis and EU best practice,” Füle was quoted as saying in the EU statement.

Statements from EU officials expressing concern have closely followed unfolding events in Turkey starting with a corruption scandal opened up on Dec. 17. The criticisms are mainly focused on concerns over the independence of judiciary, separation of powers and impartiality and transparency of investigations.

There was no mention of the corruption scandal, which resulted in the removal of four ministers involved in the probe from the Cabinet. Turkey’s EU accession process, international and regional issues were discussed during the meeting in Brussels, along with the Syrian civil war, Iran’s nuclear weapon deal, Cyprus peace talks and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Füle said another issue that dominated the meeting were the Cyprus peace talks; the EU Commission appreciated Turkey’s recent support helping to re-launch talks between the two sides.