Tag Archives: Turkey

The 2010 Enlargement Progress Reports in a Nutshell

The European Commission has presented its annual assessment of the European Union’s enlargement agenda. It comprises a 2010-2011 Strategy paper, the Opinions on the membership applications by Montenegro and Albania and seven Progress Reports on the potential candidate countries and on the candidate countries including Croatia. The progress reports and opinions for separate countries are summarized below.

The big news is, of course, Croatia. The Commission thinks that the negotiations are entering their final phase. There are some outstanding benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. The Commission notes that corruption remains prevalent in many areas. If everything goes normally, Croatia should conclude its negotiations somewhere in 2011, meaning a possible accession in 2013.

The Commission believes that Macedonia is ready to start negotiations once the name issue is resolved. One of the important recommendations is to strengthen administrative capacity for the implementation and enforcement of legislation. The Commission says that further efforts are needed in areas related to the political criteria, in particular as regards independence of the judiciary, fight against corruption, reform of public administration and freedom of expression in the media.

Accession negotiations with Turkey have advanced, albeit rather slowly. The main obstacles remain full implementation of Turkey’s Customs Union obligations with the EU, and making progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus. The Commission notes that the package of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum on 12 September created the conditions for progress in a number of areas, such as the judiciary and fundamental rights and public administration.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, the conclusion is that the lack of a shared vision by political leaders on the direction of the country continues to block key reforms and further progress towards the EU. The role played by ethnic identity in politics has continued to hamper the functioning of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary as well as the country’s overall governance.

The Commission notes that in Serbia additional efforts are required regarding public administration reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption. Despite the active on-going cooperation of Serbia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the two remaining ICTY fugitives, Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, are still at large. Serbia has further postponed the reforms to tackle structural shortcomings of the economy.

The Commission concluded that Montenegro is ready to become a candidate country to EU membership. Montenegro needs to effectively implement and enforce legislation in all fields. Main concerns are related to the following areas: effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies, freedom of expression and government relations with civil society, as well as the situation of displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The Commission takes note of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, which concluded that Kosovo‘s declaration of independence did not violate general international law or Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the following resolution of the UN General Assembly that aims at opening the way for a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people. However, the Commission notes that the judiciary is not functioning effectively in Kosovo. The rule of law remains a serious concern.

On Iceland, the Commission concluded that the country meets the political criteria for EU membership and, despite being hit hard by the banking crises, it is well prepared to undertake the pending measures needed to meet the requirements for EU membership.

Albania has made good progress during the last 12 months, but further reforms are needed in a number of key areas, before the country can be ready to start accession negotiations. The effectiveness and stability of Albania’s democratic institutions, notably the Parliament, is not sufficiently achieved. Political dialogue is confrontational and does not respect the democratic spirit, not least because of the political stalemate since the June 2009 elections.



On Turkey and the Criteria for Accession

In recent days both Turkish and European politicians have spoken in favor of the Turkish accession to the European Union. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, sought to unblock Ankara’s accession bid by calling on European Union countries to call referenda on the country’s EU membership. Germany’s ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer has predicted that Austrian, French and German opposition to Turkey joining the European Union will melt away with time.

In both cases the main argument is the strength of the Turkish economy and the demographic profile of the population – Turkey’s median population age is just 28 compared to 42 in the Union and its economy grew by around 11 percent in the first half of this year compared to the EU’s 1-2 percent.

But this will not suffice. The criteria for accession are now legally binding (art. 49 TFEU), and they include the so-called “political criteria” that are especially hard to meet. The “political criteria” include stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

Turkey must strive to cover these criteria in the first place. No level of economic development can substitute for the lack of democracy or respect of human rights. The Turkish narrative must be centered on the promotion of democratic values, and only after that – on economic development. Otherwise Turkey will only position itself as a valuable trading partner and an immigration source, but not as a potential Member State.

Is Europe to Blame for Turkey’s Islamization?

US defense minister Robert Gates said that:

“if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought”.

I disagree. After all, the European Union is not the only link to the West for Turkey. Why not use NATO to break the Gaza blockade, as proposed by Egemen Bagiş, Turkey’s minister of European affairs and chief EU negotiator?

Preliminary Legal Analysis of the Freedom Flotilla Incident


The events on the Freedom Flotilla a few days ago shook the world. A lot was said by all sides involved in the incident. Many of the claims were based on different notions of international law and international humanitarian law in particular. That is why I decided to make an attempt to outline the questions that need to be answered in order to provide a legal, qualitative analysis of the events that led to the incident. In doing so I consulted a number of experts in international maritime law. Many refused to comment, and only a few commented off the record. Their comments are used in the text without attribution. I also sent lists of questions to both the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla. Neither responded. That is why this analysis remains preliminary and incomplete.

The Legal Status of the Freedom Flotilla

The Freedom Flotilla was organized by a variety of NGOs, led by the Free Gaza movement and the Turkish charity İnsani Yardım Vakfı (IHH). According to the organizers the flotilla was supposed to deliver things like medical aid, food, clothing items, prefabricated homes, children’s playgrounds, stationery items, iron bars, cement.

The details about legal arrangements for the organization and internal management of the Freedom Flotilla are, however, scant. It is clear that there was coordination among the ships, and that probably the distribution of cargo among the ships was also coordinated. It is not clear, however, whether the numbers and composition of passenger lists was negotiated, agreed on or indeed communicated among the organizing NGOs. We don’t know how was the itinerary of the flotilla determined or planned. According to the organizers they have negotiated with the government of the Republic of Cyprus (EU Member State) to board the ships from Cypriot ports, bit it later declined to allow the boarding to happen. That is why at least two of the ships were boarded from ports in Northern Cyprus (the territory that is not controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus).

The Turkish authorities say that the ships that were boarded from Turkey did undergo customs checks and passport control checks. I am not so sure whether that was also the case for the ships boarded in Northern Cyprus. At least one source (a Czech journalist) claims that at least on his ship there were no formal customs or passport checks performed. It should be established, therefore, whether such checks were performed on all or only a few of the ships involved. That is very important, since the customs declarations of the ships and the lists of passengers will be a valuable resource in the future independent investigation of the incident.

There is no information whether the passengers or the cargo on the ships of the flotilla were insured. There is also no information whether or how participants were informed about the possible risks of confrontation with the Israeli armed forces or on how to perform civil resistance to the Israeli military.

There is no information available to me on the possible legal agreement between the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla and the Hamas government of the Gaza strip. We don’t know how the organizers assessed the needs of the population in Gaza. This would be an important element in the assessment of the legality of the actions of the Freedom Flotilla.

There were claims that one of the main organizers – the Turkish IHH was linked to Islamist groups, and indeed to some terrorist organizations. Details of these allegations can be found in the report by Evan Kohlmann, claiming that members of IHH were in the past intending to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. IHH denies these claims.

These lacking details prevent me from reaching a conclusion whether the Freedom Flotilla was a legitimate attempt to deliver humanitarian aid in the first place. While there are no universally binding rules for delivering humanitarian aid, it appears that there were sufficient gaps in the organization of this particular operation. More importantly, Common Article 3 of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 stipulates that “an impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict”. This rule imposes an obligation on States which are unable or unwilling to provide humanitarian aid to promptly permit external assistance from neutral relief organizations. The obligation is not unconditional even outside of the question about the actual legality of the naval blockade which is reviewed below. The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief says that humanitarian aid is not a partisan or political act and should not be viewed as such. The neutrality of the organization providing relief is a conditio sine qua non, and Israel may have had a valid argument in contesting the neutrality of at least one co-organizer of the Freedom Flotilla – IHH.

Legality of the Actions of the Israeli Army

The legality of the actions of the Israeli army during the incident must be reviewed in a larger perspective, taking into account the legal status of the Gaza territory, its form of government, and the relations of the Gaza government with Israel.

A short history of the Gaza territory in recent years can be read in Wikipedia. The Hamas government of Gaza is currently controlling this territory, but is not recognized by the European Union and its Member States, the US and many other members of the UN. This means that currently Gaza has no internationally recognized government. Israel has claimed that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into hostile territory. Israel further claims that the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Article XIV) stipulated that foreign vessels should not approach closer than 12 nautical miles from the coast unless specifically authorized pursuant to jointly agreed regulations and that in the absence of such conditions all foreign vessels would be required to dock at Israeli approved ports.

Israel further claims that it has imposed a naval blockade on the Gaza territory on 06 January 2009. This naval blockade was imposed under the rules of international armed conflicts law. The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea stipulates that a blockade must be effective. It stipulates further that:

“If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to:

(a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and

(b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

This means that if Israel has had the right to impose a naval blockade, it also had the right to demand a search of the vessels participating in the Freedom Flotilla, as well as guarantees of impartiality. The question of the legality of the naval blockade is in this sense essential for determining the legality of the actions of the Israeli army. This is a complicated question; there are many arguments for and against. I am not able to say today which side is right on this. It must be said though that claims for Israel to lift the blockade by various organizations, including the European Union, do not necessarily reflect the illegality of that blockade.

But did Israel have the right to engage the Freedom Flotilla in international waters? At least one source says that the attempted breach of blockade occurs from the time a vessel or aircraft leaves a port or air take-off point with the intent of evading the blockade. In this sense the liability of a blockade runner to capture begins and terminates with the voyage or flight of the vessel/airplane.

There is one very important question in order to assess the legality of the actions of the Israeli army, and that is whether its use of force was proportional. This is also a very difficult question. We do know that the people on board of “Mavi Marmara” engaged in what they call “civil resistance”. We also know that some passengers say that the Israeli military started shooting from the very beginning. We don’t know what version of the rules of engagement was used by the Israeli military during the attack. That is why I am unable to assess the proportionality of the use of force by the Israeli military, especially given the fact that there were a number of deaths as a result of the attack. One thing is clear – the resistance by people on board of “Mavi Marmara” does infringe the requirement for impartiality as defined by Common Article 3 of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949.


There are too many questions that remain unanswered in order to assess the legality of the actions of the Israeli military during the attack on the Freedom Flotilla. I cannot find at this time enough information in order to provide a full and relatively objective assessment. But the arguments related to the exercise of the so-called “civil resistance” remain particularly weak. On the other hand any number of fatalities demands a thorough, objective investigation of all events leading to it. That is why this preliminary analysis can be used as a critical text that only attempts to raise the questions that need to be answered.

Rating Foreign Policy in Public Opinion

A BBC poll among more than 29,000 adults, asked respondents to say whether they considered the influence of different countries in the world to be mostly positive or mostly negative.

The poll focuses a lot of its attention on the performance of the United States. However, I am much more interested in the relative performance of the European Union and separate Member States.

The most positive ratings in the whole survey went for Germany (an average of 59% positive). The United Kingdom (52% positive) and France (49% positive) were also high on the list. The European Union as a whole was viewed positively by 53% of the respondents worldwide.

Here’s the thing. Respondents from only one country rated quite negatively the EU (45% negative, 29% positive). That country was Turkey. Go figure.

Quo Vadis, Turkey?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken a harsh position against undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey, threatening to expel thousands amid tensions over allegations that Armenians were victims of “genocide” during the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

This is unacceptable. Mr. Erdoğan should withdraw that statement.

Bulgaria Retreats from Comments on Turkey

In what has become a fashion, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has distanced himself from earlier comments by the minister for Bulgarians abroad, Bojidar Dimitrov. Dimitrov said that Bulgaria could block the accession negotiations with Turkey over the question for compensation of Bulgarian refugees from Eastern Thrace in the period 1912-1918.

The spokesman of the Council of Ministers who confirmed the Bulgarian option of vetoing the negotiations was fired.

Should I remind here that Bulgaria wanted to get the enlargement portfolio in the Barroso II Commission???

Bulgaria Blocks Turkish Accession over Compensation?

EUobserver reports that Bojidar Dimitrov, minister without portfolio who runs the country’s Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, has said that “one of the three conditions of Turkey’s full membership of the EU is solving the problem of the real estate of Thracian refugees”.

Additionally, Mr. Vesselin Ninov – spokesperson for the Bulgarian Council of Ministers, has said that Bulgaria has the option to block accession negotiations with Turkey over the issue.

Turkey Demands Visa-Free Travel to the EU

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has demanded visa-free travel with the EU after the opening of the borders for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro.

He also said this:

“It’s unacceptable that certain Balkan countries that are in the initial stages of the membership process and have not begun negotiations have been given the Schengen privilege, while Turkey, considering the level that Turkish-EU relations have reached, has not.”

Apparently Mr. Davutoglu does not understand that the Council and the Commission obviously do not follow this logic.

Turkey Drifts from the West?

There are three pieces of analysis that tackle the obvious drift of Turkish foreign policy away from the European Union and the United States.

Dan Bilefski in the New York Times reports on a multitude of viewpoints on the new direction of Turkish foreign policy towards the East. He deals with the problem of the Turkish accession to the European Union and the cultural and economic prerequisites for the re-orientation. He says that even a partial collapse of accession talks with the European Union would have far-reaching consequences. I find interesting the quote from Cengiz Aktar that rather than worrying that Turkey is moving toward the East, the West should fear a wounded Turkey turning to Russia.

Daniel Pipes says that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu envisions reduced conflict with neighbors and Turkey emerging as a regional power, a sort-of modernized Ottoman Empire.

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times believes that Turkey still wants to be part of Europe. And on every challenge – from energy, from terrorism, drugs and migration to trade and investment – Europe has an immutable interest in nurturing a democratic, west-facing Turkey.