EU demands freedom of press from Turkey

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Even though the candidate country Turkey negotiates about accession to the European Union, there have been several journalists arrested – a huge problem concerning the freedom of press. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is angry, and thousands of journalists and supporters demonstrated in Istanbul. The EU expects Turkey to implement the freedom of press as a core democratic principle. But Turkey maintains a low profile.

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By Frauke Konzak

The European Union (EU) reacts with incomprehension to the situation of freedom of press in Turkey. The country should intensify its reforms – that is one of the European Parliament’s key messages in its resolution on Turkey’s 2010 Progress Report last week. But just a week ago, the police arrested some journalists in the candidate country for EU membership – and this was not the only time. Is this compatible with the accession negotiations?

The Parliament’s answer: “No.” During the debate, many of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were concerned about the slow progress on human rights and key reforms in Turkey in 2010 (Photo: Frauke Konzak). Among the main problems, several MEPs listed the freedom of press, including self-censorship of national media and websites.

One of the main problems: freedom of press

The final text of the resolution has the same wording as last year, describing the opening of Turkey’s accession negotiations in 2005 as the “starting point for a long-lasting and open-ended process”. The resolution was adopted with the support of a large majority of MEPs.

“The Commission follows with concern the recent actions against journalists”

Stefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, says that accession negotiations have slowed down. He says: “The Commission follows with concern the recent actions against journalists. In its 2010 progress report, the Commission highlighted the high number of court cases against journalists.“ Furthermore he states: “As a candidate country, we expect Turkey to implement such core democratic principles and enable varied, pluralistic debate in public space.“

During the debate concerning Turkey’s 2010 progress report, Eniko Gyori, Hungarian Minister of State for EU Affairs, adds: “Fundamental rights should be in line with European standards. The accession negotiations will continue, but they are becoming more complex.“

Again and again police actions against journalists in Turkey

One of the reasons: A week before the debate in the European Parliament, there were police actions against journalists and writers in Turkey. The journalists were accused of relations to the alleged “Ergenekon” coup plots against the Turkish government. The Turkish police raided and searched the homes of nine journalists in Istanbul. They were under police  supervision and facing arrest.

Police also confiscated the journalists’ computers and notebooks, as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) complained. These organizations want to push governments to promote social justice and rights for journalists. “We condemn this outrageous violation of a cardinal principle of press freedom,” states Arne König, President of EFJ. “This attack on protection of journalists’ sources is a blatant violation of free expression under the European Convention of Human Rights which has been ratified by Turkey.”

Thousands of Turkish journalists demonstrated for the release of their colleagues

And the public in Turkey reacts, too. On last Sunday, thousands of journalists and their supporters were demonstrating in Istanbul to call for the release of 68 of their arrested colleagues, as several media-websites report. The demonstrators called for changes to the penal code to ensure press rights are protected. It was the second demonstration within two weeks.

In fact, a lot of initiatives – and the EU – demands reaction of Turkey concerning the actions against the journalists. But what they can actually do, that is a different chapter.

“The EU can do little except to raise its voice,” says Birgit Schnieber-Jastram, a MEP from Germany and member of a Group of the European People’s Party/Christian Democrats. She is also in the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee. “One of the main problems is that it is not transparent for the EU, who is responsible for the arrests, and for which reasons – is it the government or the opposition?” From her point of view, both sides – Turkey and the EU – are slowing down the process of the accession negotiations. She mentions some other problems besides freedom of press, e.g. human rights, freedom of religion and the occupation of the Republic of Cyprus. “Turkey is taking its time,” she says. “But I am also afraid that the negotiations will take too long and both sides will lose their interest.”

Political pressure more effective than a legal process

However, to raise the voice can be a powerful instrument, according to Alun Drake, Coordinator at the Council of Europe. He says: “If I should guess, I would say that this case will be resolved more with political pressure than in a legal process that can take some years, for example at the Court of human rights.” The Council of Europe seeks to develop common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights throughout Europe. Alun Drake adds: “The topic of freedom of press is a big and sensitive topic in Turkey. But they do respect human rights to a certain amount, and they are not as bad as Russia for example.” Without that, Turkey would not be able to be a candidate country for a EU membership.

Freedom of press: No problem for Engin Arikan, Counsellor of the Turkish Permanent Delegation to the EU

When and if Turkey becomes a member of the EU, is hard to calculate. “Turkey’s accession date cannot be foreseen under the present circumstances which is full of political obstacles“, says Engin Arikan, Counsellor of the Turkish Permanent Delegation to the EU. He explains his point of view: “Turkey’s negotiation process is blocked for political reasons. It is not normal at all. If we had a normal process free of political obstacles, we would have opened 29 chapters so far, not 13 only. However, despite the political obstacles, Turkey is determinedly continuing its reform process for all negotiation chapters.” Asked what are the biggest problems in Turkey regarding the EU accession – e.g. human rights, freedom of religion or freedom of press – Engin Arikan is confident: „None of that are problems, because Turkey has been and is doing reforms in all these fields.“

Nevertheless, Engin Arikan says that general mood in Turkey concerning the EU is pessimistic: “If you ask Turkish people whether they would like Turkey to join the EU, the response is ‘yes’ with a great majority. However, if you ask people whether they believe that Turkey will become a member of the EU one day, the answer is ‘no’ with majority again. This is the outcome of the frustration accumulated over the years.”

Stefan Füle, European Commissioner, on the other hand, stays optimistic: “The EU-Turkey relationship is strong. Turkey needs the EU and the EU needs Turkey – this balance has not changed. The European Union is and will remain a key player for Turkey.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejects responsibility

But still – Turkey maintains a low profile. Egemen Bagis, Turkish State Minister and Chief Negotiator for EU Talks, says to Press TV, no one could lecture Turkey on freedom of expression – not even the EU. Furthermore, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejects responsibility according to the news agency AFP concerning the arrested journalists. He just states that he hopes that the judiciary would “complete the process speedily.”

President Abdullah Gul on the other hand says to AFP he was “worried” about the latest developments concerning freedom of press, because they “cast a pall” over Turkey’s reputation in other countries.




Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership following the Helsinki European Council of December 1999. Accession negotiations started in October 2005 with the analytical examination of the EU legislation (the so-called screening process).

Since then the EU closed provisionally one chapter and opened negotiations on 12 chapters. On 18 February 2008 the Council adopted a revised Accession Partnership with Turkey.

Since 2007, Turkey is receiving EU financial aid under the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). The allocation for 2008 totals € 538.7 million.


Population (2006) :

72 520 000

Area :

783 562 Square Kilometer



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Gender equality still a women’s issue

International Women's Day celebrated in the European Parliament 8th of March 2011. Photo: Åsa Secher

In the European Pact for Gender Equality, the Council of the European Union emphasizes the importance of taking into account “the crucial role of men and boys on the promotion of gender equality”. Yet only 8,2 percent of the members in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee are men.

By: Åsa Secher

Strasbourg 8th of March 2011. The European Parliament is covered in posters declaring the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. During press conferences, debates and workshops the importance of gender equality is emphasized. However, the statistics presented in the European Commissions yearly report on gender equality are very clear: the progress is too slow. Women in the European Union earn on average 17,5 percent less than men and only three percent of CEO’s of the largest companies in the EU are women. The explanations are likely to be numerous and complex, but when turning towards the efforts being made to improve the situation, there is a clear pattern: a distinct lack of men engaged in gender equality work. Only five out of 61 members of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) are men and during the debate on equality between men and women in plenary the 8th of March only two out of 15 speakers were men.

Eva-Britt Svensson, chair of the FEMM Committee, thinks the composition of the committee reflects on the composition of the entire European Parliament.

“We have a very conservative majority in Parliament, where gender equality issues have very low status, therefore men are not interested in participating in the work, that’s what I believe is the main reason”.

For Eva-Britt Svensson, it is important that the FEMM Committee has high status in Parliament.

“To have an impact on these issues you need status. It doesn’t matter if the committee voted for great things if we lose in plenary. So it’s really important that you work in a way that brings status, so that the men in the plenary vote in favor of women’s right to their sexuality, women’s right to decide for themselves, and so forth”.

According to Eva-Britt Svensson, the reason why so few men seem to be interested in gender equality work in the first place can be traced back in history.

“The fight for gender equality was initiated by women, often having to do it by themselves, and thus turning gender equality into a women’s issue. But gladly that perspective is changing now, however perhaps more slowly on EU-level. Take yesterday as an example [8th of March], when all women entering plenary were given red roses, which clearly attests to an old-fashioned attitude towards women”.

Eva-Britt Svensson, MEP and Chair of the FEMM Committee

To argue with money

To raise interest in gender equality issues among men, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, wants to focus on economics and argue that we all need to pay attention to gender equality to maximize our profits.

“All the studies we have show that corporations with an equilibrated structure for top decision-making, compared to those with an all male structure, are making a much higher return on investment, so it is in the interest of the companies to take women in. We should leave the feminist discussion about this and really present the value in money”.

The studies Viviane Reding is referring to are made by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey and conclude that a decreased gender gap could increase the GDP of the Euro-zone by nine percent. They also show that companies with women on their boards had a 56 percent higher operating profit than those with only men.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission

When it comes to companies and the challenge of convincing male directors, Eva-Britt Svensson agrees with Viviane Reding that the economic arguments are useful. However, she feels that in order to really convince both men and women to fight for gender equality, company directors or not, we should not have to rely on arguments based on economic profits.

“We must not belittle the importance of gender equality, it has to be important even if it is not profitable for companies. After all the core is to have a society with equal opportunities and equal rights. How much of a feminist are you if you if you compromise on the core values?”

The power of experience

Marc Tarabella is a Belgian Member of the European Parliament and one of five male members of the FEMM Committee.

“I regret that there are so few men on the committee, but I think it might have to do with the fact that a lot of women unfortunately have experienced being treated differently because they are women. And if you can relate, it’s easier to engage”.

Marc Tarabella has been a member of the committee since 2009 when he reentered the European Parliament. When he told his colleagues he wanted to join they laughed at him, but he didn’t care.

Between 2007 and 2009 he was Minister for training, youth and life-long learning in Belgium, and it was during that period he decided he wanted to engage actively in gender equality work.

Marc Tarabella, MEP and member of the FEMM Committee

“While working in Belgium I received some testimonies. There was for example one young woman who came up to me once and told me how she’d wanted to become a school bus driver, but because she was the only woman among 40 men, the [male] teacher had told her to cut her hair, that bus driver was no job for a woman and so on, so she quit. And that’s just terrible, and that kind of behavior takes place everyday, and we must fight it.”

However convinced he himself might be, Marc Tarabella don’t know how to convince other men to do what he did, but he does feel that the mentality towards gender equality is changing.

“We need to change the mentality both inside the EU and outside, and that takes time. But with younger members coming in, I feel we are moving in the right direction”.

The importance of leadership

Eva-Britt Svensson has been chair of the FEMM Committee for one and a half years and she is utterly convinced that her presidency will increase the number of men on the committee the upcoming term.

“My predecessor on the committee thought that abortion should be illegal even if the life of the pregnant woman was in danger. With that kind of  presidency the committee was not being taken seriously. Since I became chair we have raised the bar and I’m completely convinced that a more serious committee also will attract more men”.

However hopeful she feels when it comes to her own committee, she also feels that a gender balanced composition is equally important on other committees where important decisions are being made.

“A lot of the most important decisions are not being made on the FEMM Committee, but rather in male-dominated committees such as the foreign affairs committee. So on those committees it’s important that we increase the number of women represented, and when I became chair I appointed one person on every committee to be responsible for gender mainstreaming. Which is very easy to do, the hard part is to make it affective. So we are in constant contact with these representatives and support them in whatever way we can. And it might not seem that important, but it’s an embryo to making gender equality matter in every committee” .

And even if supporting gender-mainstreaming representatives in other committees won’t increase the number of men on the FEMM Committee, it is another way of trying to get men interested in gender equality.




The UN is in no urgency to implement a no-fly zone on Libya


Although both the European Union and the Arab league stressed the need for a no-fly zone on Libya, the UN is still standing still concerning this particular subject.

Zainab Al.Dabbagh

On Wednesday, March 2nd, there was a warplane attack on Libyan rebels causing up to 6000 casualties reported Al-Masry Al-Yom, and Egyptian newspaper. MSNBC reported that the Libyan rebels are training to use anti aircraft weapons to stop the air attacks that ends lives upon lives of civilians and rebels in Libya. Those attacks went for three days in a row, which led the rebels to request a no-fly zone.

The EU and the UN as well as NATO started dealing with the Libyan affairs since the mid-February. They started with implementing sanctions and placing embargos on weapons. Nevertheless, those actions were a few of the many they said that they are willing to take, which led Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French MEP, questioned the credibility of the plans of the EU saying, “Let’s be frank, for years we were in fact with the dictatorship, supporting Gaddafi because we had an agreement with him. Now we stopped talking to Gaddafi, Mazel tov, congratulations, but what else?”


All Talk and Finally Action

On March 9, 2011 a debate was held in the European Parliament discussing the current issue in Libya and the importance of imposing a no-fly zone. Opinions varied after Commissioner Catherine Ashton opened the session with the speech saying that immediate action needs to be taken. The priorities, for Commissioner Ashton, were; providing aid to the civilians in need, stopping the violence and the crimes against humanity. Another concern of Ashton was the expected number of refugees that might escape to the EU Mediterranean states. She stated: “ending the violence is a prerequisite to everything”. C            ohn-Bendit on the other hand disagreed with Ashton, supporting the possibility of the many refugees saying that Europe should stand to its own values.

Martin Schulz agreed with Ashton saying that in order to achieve peace in the region, there needs to be a marshal plan by the EU. He said, “If we really want to stabilize the Southern region, they should get what we already have”

Miguel Portas disagreed with the no-fly zone saying, “This is a general historical movement that will bring democracy to the Arab world”. He mentioned that in order for Libya to follow Tunisia and Egypt’s steps, it should create its own destiny and the EU should not Militarily interfere.

Bruno Gollnisch agreed with Portas adding that the EU should give Gaddafi another option. EU should offer Gaddafi the option of keeping his assets and moving to another country, maybe then he will step down and put an end to the violence in Libya, said Gollnisch.

Whereas, Charles Tannock stated blatantly that he disagrees with MEP Gollnisch and he is for the no-fly zone and for the military intervention for the EU has no other choice to end the crimes against humanity that are taking place in Libya.

In a press conference on the same day that received two of the former Libyan ministers; Dr. Mahmoud Jebril and Dr. Ali Al-Esawi, that altered sides. It was mentioned that Libya would prefer the EU to recognize the Libyan rebels as a legitimate government and refrain from any military interference.

The next day, on March 10th, 2011 a voting session was held to decide what action should the EU take concerning Libya. The majority voted for the no fly zone hence it has been adopted and recommended to the UN.

Requests for action

On Saturday, March 12th, 2011, the Arab League asked the “United Nations to shoulder its responsibility … to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to air strikes.”

The UN nevertheless is prudent in approving and recommending the no-fly zone to NATO in fear that it will have to be drawn into the internal conflict of Libya. If the no-fly zone was implemented, there will be a necessarily to eradicate the anti-aircraft capabilities, reported the Associated Press.

Also, in the European Parliament debate about the issue, many expressed the need to implement the no-fly zone to stop the mascaras and regarded Gaddafi as a maniac and in denial. “He brings to mind a figure such as Saddam,” said Amr el-Shobaki, an Egyptian political analyst told the Associated Press.



Over to the UN

After the recommendation from the EU, the UN is still standing still and ignoring the stress of immediate action that is to be taken towards Gaddafi and Libya.

Imposing a no-fly zone over Libya is “perfectly deliverable” said the UK prime minister, David Cameron to the BBC. He emphasized the importance for the UN to take instantaneous action.

France and the UK are leading the movement of the no-fly zone amongst the EU member states, while other countries are being vigilant to the idea and the aftermath of imposing it, Reported CNN.

After the invasion of Iraq, bruised feelings at the U.N. also exist. This time, it is the United States that is taking a conscious advance while the Arab League is requesting immediate military action on one of its own suspended members.

Mr. Cameron reasoned that that the world has seen several uprising against dictator, and it would be a bad message if they were crushed, reported BBC.

So far there’s no urgency concerning the vote on the no-fly zone by the UN, which is causing controversy between different EU member states.

What Now?

Hillary Clinton, the secretary state of the United States of America said that executing a no-fly zone is a decision made by the UN and not by Washington. Clinton mentioned that the United States is not looking for another debacle like the one they faced in Iraq. She stated that the fact that the movement came from the people of Libya is very important, reported Al-Jazira.

As opinions differ, there are no specific measures in play at the moment, costing more lives of rebels and civilians in Libya. The humanitarian aid on the other hand is continuing its way through the Libyan boarders from many countries, including several EU member states.


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Asylum in Greece: A privilege for a few

By Søren Tang

140 people, 110 m2, one toilet and one bath. These are the conditions described by a new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, for asylum seekers who enter Greece from Turkey. Human Rights Watch call the conditions inhumane.

A new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights describes how the Greek asylum system is in no condition to handle the refugees crossing the Greek/Turkish boarder.

Since northern African countries have, in cooperation with the EU, stopped the flow of immigrants to countries like Spain and Italy, the preferred route into Europe has been through Turkey and then Greece. Results are that 90% of all immigrants hoping to gain access to Europe arrive in Greece.

Only 0.04% of asylum seekers in Greece are granted asylum, because of a system that has been completely overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Those not accepted risk being send back to countries where their life may be in danger.

The Dublin II Regulation

It could seem a consequence of a country in deep financial crisis. But in fact, it is a result of the rules implemented under the Dublin II regulation.

The Dublin II regulation describes the asylum rules within the EU. The problem is it constitutes that all asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first European country they arrive in. For 9 out of 10, this would be Greece.

“No country could manage such a stream of immigrants”, said Danish MEP Jens Rohde from the Venstre party. “Try to imagine if it had been us. If we in Denmark had 30.000 refugees a year, our system would break down as well.

Court of Human Rights: Stop sending people back to Greece

In a recent case the European Courts of Human Rights ruled that Belgium was breaching the Human Rights Convention when they send back an asylum seeker to Greece, according to the Dublin II convention.

Frontex police officer on boarder patrol. Frontex is the joint boarder-control Agency within the EU
Frontex police officer on boarder patrol. Frontex is the joint boarder-control Agency within the EU

This ruling went against a general praxis in the EU, sending asylum seekers back to Greece. The reasons given by the court was that sending people back to a system not able to handle the pressure, as well as only providing inhuman living conditions in detention camps, was a breach of article 3 and 13 of the Human Rights Convention. This also follows the recommendations of the UN Refugee Agency, who has advised all EU member states not to send asylum seekers back to Greece.

Debate in the European parliament

One of the key issues in a recent debate in the European parliament was a creation of a common asylum system for the EU.

Timothy Kirkhope, (dep. chairman ECR), argued that although Greece undoubtedly needed help, such a system would never be a success,
“”It is clear that we are dealing with a system that is broken. What is clear is that the European courts and the European legislation are in conflict,” he said and continues, “We need to support Greece, instead of just making up legislation that in the end will be overturned by the European courts.”

This is a position backed by Jens Rohde, “We need to help Greece and issue resources and personnel to help Greece. But we have already done a lot.”

What Jens Rohde is referring to, is an answer from the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, as to the total amount of aid given to Greece when dealing with immigrants. In the period 2007-2011, the commission has, through different foundations, donated 211,2 million EUR to help the Greek government deal with the asylum seekers.

“So the Greeks needs to stop whining as well. They are getting help, and we are not just leaving them alone to deal with the problems themselves,” said Jens Rohde.

Sharing the burden

Stavros Lambrinidis, vice-president of the parliament and Greek MEP (Social democrat) argued for reforms,

“Because of the unequal distribution of burdens, member states have been involved in a game of pingpong, throwing accusations at each other, with the poor refugees trapped in between” he said, advocating for a change of the Dublin convention.

He also explains that although Greece has made progress it is not nearly enough, because no country can handle the amount of asylum seekers that is coming to Greece alone.

“We need to ensure that we have genuine solidarity between our member states, and make sure that some member states don’t just wash their hands concerning this problem,” he said.

A point that Danish MEP Søren Søndergaard agrees with.

“The EU kept silent for a long time. This while people were thrown to the streets or even tortured. Greece cannot handle the situation, so we need to change the whole system,” Søren Søndergaard said.

Søren Søndergaard is strongly critical of the system that he feels has let the asylum seekers down. Therefore he proposes that the whole asylum system is changed, so that the asylum seekers are distributed among the countries within the EU.

Jens Rohde on the other hand, believes this will only cause more trouble.

“If we start distributing asylum seekers all over Europe, then real trouble will come. A lot of the applicants are here for economic reasons, so they need to be send back. That is a lot easier, if they are all in one place. Sending people all around Europe will only cause trouble,” he said.

NGOs highly critical

But something needs to be done, according to Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director in Human Rights Watch’s Europe.

“It (the Dublin II regulations) assumes that all EU member states provide equal access to asylum for refugees and maintains the same reception standards. But this assumption is false”

This is also shown in the number of countries within the EU, who have already suspended returns of asylum seekers to Greece. This list now includes Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The UN Refugee Agency has described the conditions as a “humanitarian crisis”. They have for a long time urged the Greek government to implement their planned asylum reforms. The Greek government has already made the legislation, but have postponed it several times, much to the disappointment of Human Rights Watch.

“Despite its formal commitments, the Greek government has utterly failed to meet its most basic responsibilities to protect refugees,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch.

Also, Amnesty International has kept focus on this area for a long time. No later than March 9, Amnesty wrote a letter to the Greek government, stressing the needs for better conditions for the asylum seekers.

While a solution is debated, asylum seekers in Greece are still stuffed into overcrowded detention facilities. Everybody can agree that something needs to be done. But as long as there is no agreement on what, asylum seekers will just have to hope, that they are among the 0.04% that is being granted asylum each year. Last year, that was 11 people.

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Fact Box:

In the period 2007-2011 the Greek government received 211,2 mil. EUR. from the EU in aid to help dealing with the flow of immigrants.

EU has set up a special boarder-control agency called Frontex to help countries like Greece dealing with illegal immigration.

Frontex helps control the Greek boarder to minimize the flow of illegal immigrants over the Greek/Turkish boarder. Frontex’s staff include police officers from all over Europe.

European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 3 prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Article 13 provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention.


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