Turkey 2021 Report
Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union. Turkey has been linked to the EU by an Association Agreement since 1964 and a Customs Union was established in 1995. The European Council granted Turkey the status of candidate country in December 1999 and accession negotiations were opened in October 2005. Within the framework of accession negotiations, 16 chapters have been opened and one of these was provisionally closed. The General Affairs Council conclusions of June 2019 reiterated the Council’s position of June 2018 that under the current circumstances, Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill, no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing1. Over the reporting period, the Turkish government did not reverse the negative trend as regards the reform agenda despite the Turkish government’s repeated commitment to the objective of EU accession. The EU’s serious concerns on the continued deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary have not been addressed. There was further backsliding in many areas.
1 The European Council conclusions of December 2006 remain in force.
Relations with the EU deteriorated until December 2020, mostly due to actions taken by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, directly challenging the rights of the Republic of Cyprus in its maritime zones. In addition, there was a sharp increase in provocative action taken by Turkey against Greece, a failure to advance in the Cyprus settlement process, and assertive action by Turkey in most of the surrounding regional conflicts, in ways that often were at odds with broader EU interests. Two individuals remain listed under the November 2019 framework for restrictive measures for Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean2. The duration of this framework was extended by an additional year in November 20203.
Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean eased in the beginning of 2021. The EU re-affirmed that it has a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. The EU offered to nurture a more positive dynamic in EU-Turkey relations by expressing readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner in a number of areas of common interest, subject to the conditionalities set out by the European Council. In that context high level dialogues were held on climate and migration and security to be followed by the dialogue on health soon. At the same time, the European Union remained committed to defending its interests and those of its Member States and uphold regional stability.
Turkey continued its enormous efforts to host the largest refugee population in the world with around 3.7 million Syrians under temporary protection and more than 320 000 non-Syrians, including those who hold or have applied for international protection status. The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey contributed to these efforts, with the full EUR 6 billion operational budget of the Facility contracted by the end of 2020 and over EUR 4.2 billion had been disbursed by August 2021. In addition to the EUR 6 billion already mobilised under the EU Facility for Refugees, in 2020 and 2021 EUR 585 million were earmarked from the EU budget for humanitarian support and to continue two important cash support programmes for refugees. In June 2021, the Commission proposed to allocate EUR 3 billion in additional assistance to Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey. 3
The March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement continued yielding results and remained the key framework governing cooperation on migration despite Turkey’s repeated calls to update the Statement. Problems arose over implementation of the Statement due to Turkey’s unilateral suspending returns of irregular migrants and rejected asylum seekers from the Greek islands from March 2020 onwards, the emergence of alternative smuggling routes to Cyprus and Italy.
The reporting period continued to be marked by the detrimental impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. By early October, Turkey had recorded around 7.2 million cases and about 64 000 deaths related to the pandemic. Around 71 % of the population had been fully vaccinated. Turkey took considerable measures to boost domestic demand and soften the economic repercussions of the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic the EU has stood by Turkey and taken several measures, including by reallocating over EUR 103 million of EU funds to help prevent and treat COVID-19 and to mitigate the economic and social impact.
1.2. SUMMARY OF THE REPORT4 5
4 This report covers the period from June 2020 to June 2021. It is based on input from a variety of sources, including contributions from the government of Serbia, the EU Member States, European Parliament reports and information from various international and non-governmental organisations. This also includes the results of comparative assessments and indices produced by other stakeholders, in particular in the area of rule of law.
5 For the state of play the report uses the following assessment scales: early stage, some level of preparation, moderately prepared, good level of preparation and well advanced. For progress made during the reporting period, the following scale has been used: backsliding, no progress, limited progress, some progress, good progress and very good progress. Where appropriate, also interim steps have been used.
There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. Key recommendations of the Council of Europe and its bodies remain to be addressed. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. The constitutional architecture continued to centralise powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary. In the absence of an effective checks and balances mechanism, the democratic accountability of the executive branch remains limited to elections. Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to weakening political pluralism in Turkey. During the report period, the President dismissed the governor of the Central Bank twice.
Despite ending the state of emergency in July 2018, certain legal provisions granting extraordinary powers to government authorities and retaining several restrictive elements from the emergency rule remained integrated into law, which continued to have a significant impact on democracy and fundamental rights. In July 2021, Turkey's parliament approved a bill that extends the duration of these restrictive elements of the state of emergency for one more year. The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency has not yet finalised examining its caseload concerning the public servants who were dismissed by decree during the emergency rule.
Pressure on mayors from opposition parties by the ruling coalition government further weakened local democracy. Mayors from the opposition parties faced administrative and judicial investigations. In the south-east, the forcefully dismissed mayors continued to be 4
replaced by government-appointed trustees, denying citizens their chosen representation. In most cases, the incoming trustees have kept the municipal assemblies suspended. Hundreds of local politicians and elected office holders were arrested on terrorism-related charges.
The situation in the south-east remained very worrying. The government carried out domestic and cross-border security and military operations in Iraq and Syria. The security situation remained precarious in border areas with recurrent terrorist acts by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which remains on the EU list of persons, groups and entities involved in acts of terrorism. The EU unambiguously condemned the PKK’s attacks and expressed solidarity with the families of the victims. While the government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is essential that it does so in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Anti-terror measures need to be proportionate. There were no developments on the resumption of a credible political process to achieve a peaceful and sustainable solution. Human rights organisations and opposition parties reported serious violations of human rights by security forces.
Around 4 000 members and officials of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) remain in prison, including a number of parliamentarians. In June, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment demanding the closure of the HDP, seeking a political ban for 451 HDP executives, including the party’s co-chairs and all past and present members of Parliament and executives as well as a freeze on the party’s bank accounts. There were pending requests by the prosecution in the Parliament to lift the immunity of almost all HDP lawmakers.
On civil society issues, serious backsliding continued. Civil society faced continuous pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish limiting their freedom of expression and freedom of association. The new law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction raises concerns with regard to possible restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders and civil society.
The legal and institutional framework governing the security and intelligence sector remained unchanged with reinforced civilian oversight of the security forces under the presidential system. The government took steps to further consolidate the civilian control of the security forces.
Turkey has some level of preparation/is moderately prepared in the field of public administration reform. It made no progress during the reporting period. Turkey lacks a comprehensive public administration reform agenda and a lead institution in charge of the process. Concerns remained over the accountability of the administration and human resources management. The political will to reform is still lacking. Although policycoordinationamongcentralgovernmentinstitutionsremainedstrong,policymakingisnotevidence-basedorparticipatory. The politicisation of the administration continued. Women’s representation remained low in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy.
Turkey’s judicial system is at an early stage of preparation. The serious backsliding observed since 2016 continued. Concerns remained, in particular over the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and undue pressure on judges and prosecutors. The new human rights action plan envisages certain positive measures but it does not address any of the key shortcomings related to the independence of the judiciary. In particular, no measures are envisaged to improve respect for the principle of the separation of powers or to improve the structure and the selection process of members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, long outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the European Commission. Despite their acquittal, none of the judges or prosecutors dismissed following the coup attempt were reinstated. The lack of objective, merit-based, uniform and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors remains a source 5
of concern. The institution of criminal law judges of peace continued to raise concerns over their jurisdiction and practice.
Regarding the fight against corruption, Turkey remained at an early stage of preparations and made no progress in the reporting period. The country did not establish anti-corruption bodies in line with Turkey’s international obligations. The flaws of the legal framework and institutional architecture allowed undue political influence in the investigation and prosecution phases of corruption cases. The accountability and transparency of public institutions need to be improved. The absence of an anti-corruption strategy and action plan indicated a lack of will to fight decisively against corruption. Most of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommendations have not been implemented. Overall, corruption is widespread and remains an issue of concern.
Turkey has some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime and made limited progress. Cooperation between Europol and Turkey is based on a Strategic Agreement on Cooperation, which entered into force in July 2004. Negotiations concerning an international agreement on the exchange of personal data between Europol and the Turkish authorities competent for fighting serious crime and terrorism are ongoing, requiring Turkey to reform its legislation aligning its data protection law with the European standards. Turkey should improve its track record on dismantling criminal networks and confiscating criminal assets. The legal framework regulating the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing needs to be improved in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and those of the Venice Commission on the law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Efforts are needed to improve the legislation on cybercrime and witness protection.
The deterioration of human and fundamental rights continued. Many of the measures brought in during the state of emergency remain in force. The legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights but the legislation and practice still need to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law. Broad-scale restrictions imposed on the activities of journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders and critical voices continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of their freedoms and have led to self-censorship. Turkey’s refusal to implement ECtHR rulings, notably in the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, further increased concerns regarding the judiciary’s adherence to international and European standards. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention also put into question its commitment to such standards. The new human rights action plan, which promised reforms in a number of areas, does not address critical issues.
Serious backsliding continued on freedom of expression. Legislation and its implementation, especially national security and anti-terrorism provisions, continued to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards and to diverge from ECtHR case law. The dissemination of opposition voices and freedom of expression were negatively affected by the increasing pressure and restrictive measures. Criminal cases and convictions of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers, opposition politicians, students and social media users continued.
There was further serious backsliding in the area of freedom of assembly and association in light of recurrent bans, disproportionate interventions and excessive use of force in peaceful demonstrations, investigations, administrative fines and prosecutions against demonstrators on charges of terrorism-related activities. Legislation and its implementation are not in line with the Turkish Constitution, European standards or with international conventions. 6
The rights of the most disadvantaged groups and of persons belonging to minorities need better protection. Roma remained largely excluded from formal jobs and their living conditions severely deteriorated. Gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, in particular against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons are still a matter of serious concern.
On migration and asylum policy, Turkey made some progress. After the incidents of March 2020 when Turkey actively encouraged migrants and refugees to take the land route to Europe through Greece, the situation has eventually de-escalated. Some progress was made on strengthening surveillance and protection capacity of the eastern land border. The EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 continued to deliver results and Turkey continued to play a key role in ensuring effective management of migratory flows along the eastern Mediterranean route. The return of irregular migrants from the Greek islands under the EU-Turkey Statement remained however suspended by Turkey citing COVID-19 restrictions. However, resettlements from Turkey to the EU resumed in July 2020 despite restrictions. Although the volume of irregular arrivals to Greece fell, smuggling routes to Italy and to the government-controlled areas of Cyprus were increasingly used. Turkey has still not implemented the provisions relating to third-country nationals in the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, despite these entering into force in October 2017. Overall, the number of illegal border crossings between Turkey and Greece still remained significantly lower than it was prior to the adoption of the EU-Turkey Statement.
Turkey continued to make significant efforts to host and meet the needs of the largest refugee community in the world. The full operational budget of EUR 6 billion under the Facility for Refugees was contracted by the end of 2020 and over EUR 4.2 billion was disbursed by August 2021. Efficient integration measures are necessary to address the extended presence of refugees in the country. Access to public health for migrants and refugees should be increased. No outstanding visa liberalisation benchmarks were fulfilled. Turkey still needs to further align its legislation with the EU acquis on visa policy.
Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy continued to collide with EU priorities under the CFSP, notably due to its support for military action in the Caucasus, Syria and Iraq. While the institutional framework enabling Turkey's participation in the CFSP and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is in place, Turkey maintained a very low alignment rate of around 14 %. Turkey’s military support in Libya, including the deployment of foreign fighters on the ground, and its persistent criticism of, and lack of cooperation with Operation IRINI, are detrimental to the EU’s effective contribution to the UN arms embargo implementation, and have led to conflicting approaches on Libya. Turkey wants to see a stable and prosperous Syria, an objective it shares with the EU. However, Turkey pursued its own military action in northern Syria, including through Turkish-backed militias. At the same time, Turkey increased the provision of basic services and extended its infrastructure networks in northern Syria.
In November 2020, the Council extended the duration of the existing framework for restrictive measures in response to Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. In its conclusions of December 2020, the European Council strongly condemned Turkey’s unilateral actions, provocations and escalated rhetoric against the EU, EU Member States and European Leaders. The tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean decreased as from the beginning of 2021. Turkey stopped its illegal hydrocarbon exploration activities in the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus. However, in early October Turkish warships obstructed the vessel Nautical Geo from conducting a survey in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, and Turkey issued a NAVTEX for conducting seismic surveys which would encompass parts of Cyprus’ EEZ. Furthermore, Turkey continued undertaking 7
actions towards changing the status of the fenced-off city of Varosha with unacceptable unilateral decisions which go against the relevant UN SC Resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992). The EU has strongly condemned Turkey’s unilateral steps and the unacceptable announcements made by the Turkish President and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on 20 July 2021 on the further reopening of the fenced-off town of Varosha in Cyprus, and called for the immediate reversal of these actions and the reversal of all steps taken on Varosha since October 2020.
The EU has repeatedly stressed the need for Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of EU Member States, which include entering into bilateral agreements and exploring and exploiting their natural resources in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations, international agreements and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice.
Turkey failed to ensure full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and the removal of all the obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus. There was no progress on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus and the informal talks in April 2021 failed to pave the way for the resumption of formal negotiations.
The March 2021 and the June 2021 European Council recalled the European Union’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. In light of the discontinuation of illegal drilling activities, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey and the forthcoming, at that time, talks on the Cyprus problem under the auspices of the United Nations, the leaders offered to nurture a more positive dynamic in EU-Turkey relations. To this end, they expressed readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner in a number of areas of common interest, subject to Turkey meeting the established conditionalities set out in previous European Council conclusions, and provided that the de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean is sustained. The leaders called on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law. Taking into account the Joint Communication, they reaffirmed the determination of the European Union, in case of such action, to use the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its Member States as well as to uphold regional stability.
Turkey continued to assert the validity of the Turkish-Libyan maritime delimitation and military agreements of 2019. The EU considers this an infringement of the sovereign rights of third States, not complying with the Law of the Sea and having no legal consequences for third States.
Regarding the economic criteria, the Turkish economy is well advanced, but made no progress over the reporting period and serious concerns persist over its functioning. The authorities issued a sizeable and wide-ranging set of measures to boost domestic demand and soften the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the economy rebounded quickly from the crisis, reaching pre-crisis levels already in the third quarter of 2020. Amid a strong policy response to the crisis, institutional and policy coordination weaknesses undermined the credibility and effectiveness of authorities’ actions and the imbalances increased. The macroeconomic policy mix relied too heavily on the credit channel, while direct fiscal support measures were rather limited in view of the magnitude of the social and labour market challenges. The strong monetary expansion last year weakened 8
the lira, increased inflation and dollarization, and triggered portfolio outflows. The closing of the current account deficit in 2019 turned out to be short-lived and external imbalances remain a major vulnerability. Monetary policy tightened in autumn 2020 but the abrupt dismissal of the central bank governor in March 2021, only four months after his appointment, stirred financial market instability and called into question the authorities’ commitment to reducing inflation.
The institutional and regulatory environment weakened further and there are persistent issues with the predictability, transparency, and implementation of regulations. Market exit remained costly and slow. The informal sector declined during the crisis but still accounts for a large part of the economy. State intervention in price setting mechanisms persists. The provision of State aid lacks proper rules on implementation, enforcement and transparency. Supported by loose monetary policy until the autumn 2020 and favourable regulatory measures, bank lending grew strongly, spurred in particular by state-owned banks. The banking sector remained well capitalised, benefiting from regulatory forbearance and other crisis-mitigation measures. The pandemic had a deeply negative impact on the labour market and on poverty. The number of discouraged workers increased significantly and employment levels fell far below from where they were a few years ago. Female labour market participation and employment remained at particularly low levels. The proportion of young people not in employment, education or training increased.
Turkey made limited progress and has a good level of preparation in achieving the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Despite some progress made in improving access to education, the mismatch between the education system and labour market needs persists. Expenditure on research and development continued increasing at a slow pace, but remained well below the government’s target. Supported by favourable financing conditions and concessional lending, investment activity rebounded in 2020. Progress was made with regard to the diversification of energy supplies and the development of the renewable energy sector. The extension of local content requirement practices continued to raise concerns. The relative share of the EU in Turkey’s foreign trade slightly increased, despite extensive deviations by Turkey from its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union.
Regarding its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Turkey’s alignment with the EU acquis was very limited and pursued on a rather ad hoc basis.
The internal market cluster is key to the good functioning of the Customs Union and to integrating Turkey in the EU’s single market. Turkey has achieved a good level of preparation for the free movement of goods. Although it continued to align with technical EU legislation under the ‘New and Global Approach’, technical barriers to trade remain, which hamper the good functioning of the Customs Union. Preparations in the areas of freedom of movement for workers and right of establishment and freedom to provide services are at an early stage as many professions are closed to EU nationals. Turkey is moderately prepared on free movement of capital notably because of the substantial remaining obstacles for acquisitions of assets and real estate. It improved its legal framework regulating the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing. It has reached a good level of preparation in terms of the legislative alignment of consumer and health protection, as exemplified by Turkey’s strong vaccination campaign against COVID-19. However, in both areas, there is a need to strengthen administrative capacity, consultations and coordination among stakeholders. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of competition policy. There is a continued lack of State aid implementation rules, enforcement and transparency, while the institutional set up remains incomplete. In the cluster on competitiveness and inclusive growth, there has been mostly backsliding on the economic-related chapters. This was notably the case on 9
enterprise and industrial policy, mainly due to Turkey bringing in measures incompatible with EU industrial policy principles, and on economic and monetary policy, reflecting intensified political pressure on the central bank. There was also backsliding in the area of social policy and employment, linked to the curtailment of trade union rights, the lack of genuine social dialogue and persistent levels of informal economic activity. On taxation, while Turkey is moderately prepared, there is a need for a clear strategy, avoiding frequent changes in tax rates and enabling tax information exchange with all EU Member States. Turkey maintains a good level of preparation for the customs union but made limited progress, including in its implementation. Turkey’s deviations from its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union continue, contributing to a high number of trade irritants. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of information society and media. It continued backsliding, mostly due to inadequate competition, concentration of media ownership and the lack of independence of regulatory authorities. Turkey’s preparations in the area of science and research are well advanced and it continued to implement the action plan to boost the national research and innovation capacity and to align with the European Research Area (ERA). Turkey is moderately prepared on education and culture, and needs to further improve inclusive education, with a particular focus on girls and children from disadvantaged groups.
Regarding the cluster on the Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity, Turkey is moderately prepared in transport and energy policies. It has made some progress on energy and transport networks, with the construction of the Halkali-Kapikule railway line connecting the Bulgarian border to Istanbul continuing. Turkey has some level of preparation on environmental and climate change and faces critical environmental and climate challenges, both as regards mitigation and adaptation. It made some progress, including the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change and increasing capacity in waste management, wastewater treatment and on legislative alignment, but enforcement and implementation remain weak. Turkey needs to follow up with an enhanced nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, long-term strategic decarbonisation and adaptation plans and appropriate legislation reflecting them domestically. .
On the cluster covering resources, agriculture and cohesion, Turkey reached some level of preparation in the area of agriculture and rural development. However, there was backsliding over the reporting period, as its agricultural policy diverged from the main principles of the EU common agricultural policy. Turkey is a major exporter of food products to the EU, and made limited progress in the area of food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy. Turkey needs to make further progress on meeting EU standards, particularly on pesticide residues. It made good progress on fisheries in implementing the fisheries law, resources and fleet management, and inspection and control. Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of regional policy and the coordination of structural instruments. Overall, it made some progress in this area, especially in accelerating the absorption of IPA II funds and in addressing some structural weaknesses. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of financial and budgetary provisions and made limited progress during the reporting period to strengthen administrative capacity or to design implementing rules for the correct application of the own resources system.
Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of external relations, notably due to the continuing deviations from the Common Customs Tariff and the common commercial policy. It made limited progress in the reporting period, when it successfully concluded a trade agreement with the UK after the EU-UK agreement. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of foreign, security and defence policy. There was backsliding in the framework of political dialogue on foreign and security policy as Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy collided with the EU priorities under the common foreign and security policy. 10
Overall, in many areas further significant efforts are needed on legislative alignment with the EU acquis. In all areas, implementation and enforcement needs substantial improvement. Ensuring the independence of regulatory authorities and developing administrative capacity are key for Turkey to achieve further progress.
2. CLUSTER 1: THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ACCESSION PROCESS
2.1. Functioning of democratic institutions and Public Administration Reform
There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding as well as deep political polarisation continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. Despite ending the state of emergency in July 2018, certain legal provisions granting extraordinary powers to government authorities and retaining several restrictive elements of the emergency rule remained integrated into law. In July 2021, Turkey's Parliament approved a bill that extends the duration of these restrictive elements of the state of emergency for one more year. The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency has not yet finalised the examination of its caseload concerning the public servants who were dismissed by decree during the emergency rule. This prevented them from launching appeal procedures.
No elections were held in the reporting period. In the south-east, mayors, elected in 2019 and forcefully dismissed, continued to be replaced by government-appointed trustees, which is a source of significant concern as it undermines local democracy and denies citizens their chosen representation. The new human rights action plan foresees changes to the legislation on political parties and elections, which provides an opportunity to bring Turkish legislation in line with international obligations and standards for conducting democratic elections. Turkey needs to take steps to improve the broader environment for elections.
The legal framework for elections and political parties remains problematic and needs to be aligned with the outstanding recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Venice Commission. Turkey also needs to address broader questions with regard to democratic media plurality and provide equal and fair conditions to all political parties and candidates.
The human rights action plan announced in March 2021 foresees changes to the legislation on political parties and elections. This represents an important opportunity as past elections were marked by undue restrictions of certain fundamental freedoms, including the right to vote and be elected and the freedom of expression. Turkey should introduce key amendments to the election legislation with proper consultation, which would provide stability of the legal framework in line with international good practice.
In the south-east, 48 mayors had been forcefully dismissed and replaced by government-appointed trustees, denying citizens their chosen representation. No steps were taken to address the June 2020 opinion of the Venice Commission, according to which decisions to deny mayoral mandates to HDP candidates who received the highest number of votes at the municipal elections of March 2019 in six municipalities and to give these mandates to second-placed AKP candidates, were deemed not consistent with international norms and standards, and should be reversed. The Venice Commission further emphasised that, while the removal of elected officials may exceptionally be justified by the need to prevent officials from 11
abusing their office to favour terrorist activities, replacing elected officials by candidates who lost the election, without repeating elections, cannot be justified on this basis.
The presidential system has largely weakened the Parliament’s legislative and oversight functions. The President possessed vast legislative powers and continued to curtail the legislative role of the Parliament through presidential decrees and decisions regulating key policy areas. Policy deliberations forging cross-party consensus rarely occurred. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to the weakening of political pluralism in Turkey.
Inter-party electoral alliances were sustained in the Parliament. The parliamentary majority of the ruling AKP-led alliance marked the Parliament’s legislative and agenda-setting functions. Opposition parties failed to exert influence in parliamentary discussions. Key public policy discussions forging cross-party compromises very seldom occurred within the Parliament.
The presidential system has weakened the Parliament’s legislative function, in particular due to the extensive use of Presidential decrees and decisions. During the reporting period, the Parliament adopted 61 pieces of legislation out of the 821 proposed bills. 77 presidential decrees were issued on a wide range of policy areas including in the socio-economic policy areas, which do not fall within the remit of presidential decrees.
As an example, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which had been unanimously ratified by the Parliament in 2011, was implemented by a presidential decision, without any involvement of the Parliament.
Parliamentary oversight of the executive remained very weak. The Parliament lacks the necessary means to hold the government to account. Members of Parliament can only address written questions to the Cabinet members. They cannot ask questions to the President. Presidential decrees remained exempt from parliamentary control. Parliamentary oversight of public spending needs to be improved.
The judiciary systematically targeted parliamentarians from the opposition parties on the account of alleged terrorism-related offenses. Currently, 4 000 HDP members and officials remain in prison, including a number of parliamentarians. In June 2021, the Justice Ministry’s prosecutors submitted to the Turkish Grand National Assembly summaries of proceedings seeking to lift the legislative immunity of 20 opposition lawmakers from six different opposition parties. The parliamentary immunity system did not provide adequate legal protection that would allow the parliamentarians from the opposition to express their opinions within the boundaries of freedom of speech.
Legal actions against representatives of the opposition parties, notably the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), increasingly endangered political pluralism. In the current legislative term, four opposition deputies were stripped of their immunities and arrested due to terrorism-related charges. One of them re-gained his parliamentary status after his appeal to the Constitutional Court. Two former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ and other former HDP deputies remained in jail.
In June 2021, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment seeking the closure of the HDP. The Prosecutor alleged that the HDP became the focus of activities aiming to disrupt the 12
indivisible integrity of the State with its nation by acting as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The prosecutor also sought a political ban of 451 HDP members and a freeze of the party’s bank account. The move to close down the second largest opposition party appears to be politically motivated and seriously undermines the legitimacy of the Turkish democratic institutions and political pluralism in the country.
The legal framework for elections and political parties remains problematic. The 10 % electoral threshold is the highest among Council of Europe members. It contradicts the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and hinders the representation of many Turkish voters. Turkey did not take any step to align with the outstanding recommendations of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Venice Commission (see also Elections).
Representation of women in Parliament remained low (17.32 %). Despite the Committee on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men and some individual deputies’ efforts, the Parliament did not prioritise advancing gender equality across the country.
The presidential system continues to be characterised by a lack of checks and balances and by politicisation of the public administration. Most regulatory authorities remain directly linked to the Presidency. The recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission on the presidential regime still need to be addressed. Pressure on mayors from opposition parties by the ruling coalition government further weakened local democracy.
The presidential system remained characterised by a lack of the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against an excessive concentration of power in one office and to ensure the independence of the judiciary, as highlighted in the 2017 opinion of the Venice Commission. The presidential system negatively affected the functioning of the branches of government and the state administration. The President’s political accountability is limited to elections, due to a lack of effective checks and balances.
The use of traditional instruments of oversight of the executive by Parliament, such as a vote of confidence and the possibility of oral questions to the executive, is still not possible; only written questions can be addressed to the Vice-President and ministers. The politicisation of the administration, judiciary and the security sector further increased. Most of the key institutions are directly attached to the Presidency. The civil service has been politicised, especially in the senior managerial levels.
The legal framework enabled undue political influence over regulatory authorities. Most regulatory authorities remain directly linked to the Presidency and the President has the power to nominate the heads of the vast majority of the public regulatory authorities. During the reporting period, the President dismissed twice the governor of the Central Bank.
Despite the increase in the caseload of the Ombudsman, the institution remained silent on politically critical issues concerning fundamental rights. The Ombudsman still lacks ex officio powers to initiate investigations and to intervene in cases with legal remedies.
The pressure of the government over opposition mayors further intensified. Mayors of the opposition parties faced politically motivated administrative and judicial investigations. The Court of Cassation upheld the prison sentence for the Istanbul provincial chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Canan Kaftancıoğlu, who was charged for her social media posts. 13
The situation of local democracy in the south-east further deteriorated. 48 HDP mayors were removed from office on grounds of terrorism-related changes since the local elections in 2019. Additionally, one CHP mayor in the region of Izmir was replaced due to alleged links to the Gülen movement. Governors, as trustees, continued to hold the posts of the dismissed mayors. In most cases, the incoming trustees have kept the municipal assemblies suspended. Hundreds of local politicians and elected office holders were arrested on terrorism-related charges. All these measures ran counter to the basic premises of democracy by denying citizens their chosen representation. According to the Venice Commission, the voters’ choice needs to be restored either by reinstating the suspended mayors or determination of acting mayors by the elected municipal assemblies or by organising repeat elections.
A lawsuit was filed against İstanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on the grounds that in his press release of November 2019 he allegedly insulted the members of the Supreme Election Council (YSK) after the İstanbul elections had been cancelled.
The legal framework regulating the Ministry of Interior’s tutelary powers over elected local office holders was not revised in line with Turkey’s commitments under the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
The municipal law envisages local administrations' engagement with citizens and civil society. Citizens’ assemblies, which aim to bring together professional and civil society organisations and other local stakeholders, remained inactive in most provinces. Some municipalities increased their level of transparency and accountability through innovative solutions, such as live broadcasting of municipal tenders.
The representation of women at local level continued to be low. Only 2 of 30 (6.6 %) metropolitan mayors and 42 of 1 389 (3 %) mayors are women.
Serious backsliding regarding the civil society environment continued. Civil society faced continuous pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish, limiting their freedom of expression and freedom of association. Turkey did not implement the ECtHR judgement, which ruled for the immediate release of Osman Kavala, a prominent human rights defender. His continued pre-trial detention, further prolonged on 1 September 2021, had a deterrent effect on the work of the civil society at large. Human rights organisations, which were closed under the state of emergency, were not offered any legal remedy in relation to confiscations.
The new law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction raises concerns with regard to possible restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders and civil society.
Despite all impediments, civil society remained vocal, involved in civic life and reported on developments as much as possible. Systematic and inclusive mechanisms for consulting a wide spectrum of rights based civil society organisations, notably on new legislation and policies need to be in place.
A powerful and diverse civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system and should be acknowledged and treated as such by the state institutions. Civil society organisations in Turkey continued to make crucial contributions on key challenges facing the country, notably in the areas of education, anti-discrimination, female workforce participation, awareness-raising regarding ethnic and social tolerance, hate crimes monitoring and support for refugees. Civil society working in the area of human rights faced increased pressure, in particular following detentions and arrests of activists and human rights 14
defenders. Court cases with severe sentences and frequent investigations led to increased challenges and a hostile environment for the civil society.
The ongoing court case of prominent human rights defender Osman Kavala, held in pre-trial detention since November 2017, is deeply worrying in view of the relevant ECtHR judgment, which became final in May 2020. The judgement underlined that in addition to violating Osman Kavala’s right to liberty and security, his pre-trial detention is serving ulterior purpose, namely to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders, contrary to Article 18 of the ECHR. The Council of Europe urged the Turkish authorities to ensure Osman Kavala’s immediate release. In December 2020, the Constitutional Court rejected for the second time the individual application from Osman Kavala concluding that his right to personal liberty and security had not been violated. As underlined by the Commissioner for Human Rights, the decision of the Istanbul 13th Assize Court of 1 September 2021 to prolong the detention of Mr Osman Kavala perpetuates the violation of both his human rights and of Turkey’s obligation to abide by a final judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. Another symbolic case against human rights defenders, the Büyükada case was pending before the Court of Cassation.
Portrayal in some media outlets of some of activists as criminals, including for accepting funds from international donors remains a matter of serious concern. Defamatory rhetoric by public officials casts serious doubt on the respect for a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
The pressure faced by female politicians and women’s organisations activists characterised by frequent detention, investigation, and arrest created a serious hurdle for the exercise of freedom of association, freedom of expression, and for participation in political life. Discriminatory discourse and hate speech targeting LGBTIQ community increased.
International non-governmental organisations, including those providing humanitarian aid to refugees, also faced difficulties in their work in Turkey. No effective domestic remedy was provided for the confiscation of assets from civil society organisations closed by emergency decrees.
The legal framework regulating the work of civil society organisations lacks clarity in terms of the distribution of responsibilities among public institutions as well as arbitrariness in the implementation of the relevant legislation. It was still compulsory for all associations to register all their members in the information system of the Ministry of Interior. This legal obligation is not in line with the OSCE/Council of Europe guidelines on freedom of association. The overly broad definition of terrorism and its interpretation by the judiciary has a worrisome deterrent effect on civil society.
The law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction came into force in December 2020 after a speedy parliamentary procedure without any prior consultation and public debate. Three UN Special Rapporteurs, among many national and international stakeholders, shared their concerns over the law and argued that it might pose new limitations to freedom of association and has a negative impact on fundraising. The Venice Commission, while fully recognising Turkey’s difficult security situation, also shared these concerns. It underlined that the introduced measures go beyond what is necessary and proportional, and some of them will have a chilling effect on NGOs. The law on collection of aid continues to impose burdensome requirements for permits that discourage fundraising activities by civil society organisations. These include prior notification for each fundraising activity and lengthy authorisation processes. Public funds are not distributed in a transparent way and the distribution process does not allow for the full involvement of civil society organisations and other stakeholders at every stage. The existing tax system impedes the 15
functioning and development of foundations and associations. The status of ‘public benefit’ for associations and ‘tax exemption’ for foundations is vaguely defined and granted by the President. The space for foreign donors, which provide financial support to civil society in Turkey under current Turkish legislation, is increasingly shrinking.
Other barriers to civil society and freedom of association remain, notably cumbersome administrative procedures and repetitive frequent inspections and fines. Provisions restricting registration, procedures for obtaining required permits and the functioning of associations need to be revised, including facilitating the activities of international and national NGOs working with refugees and migrants in Turkey.
There is still no comprehensive government strategy or mechanism in place for cooperation with civil society or for improving the legal framework. Nor is there any legal framework or transparent and consistent practice for public consultations. Independent civil society organisations are largely excluded from the consultations that are part of policy-making processes and monitoring. It is crucial that the elements of full participatory approach are adopted for a functioning democracy. Overall, the legal, financial and administrative environment needs to be more conducive to developing civil society in Turkey.
Civilian oversight of the security forces
The legal and institutional framework governing the security and intelligence sector remained unchanged, with strengthened civilian oversight under the presidential system. Broad powers over the security forces lie within the executive branch. During the reporting period, the government took steps to further consolidate civilian control of the security forces. As of March 2021, the Ministry of Defence was entitled to propose military personnel’s promotion and appointment, a legal mandate that previously belonged to the General Staff.
However, the transparency and accountability of military, police and intelligence services remained very limited. The culture of impunity remained prevalent and the security personnel continued to enjoy significant judicial and administrative shelters in cases of alleged human right violations and disproportionate use of force. In June 2021, the Parliament adopted a law introducing legal shelters and exceptions to the military personnel. Except the cases of in flagrante delicto, the investigation of offences committed by the military staff is subject to prior authorisation. The parliamentary oversight of the security agencies was ineffective. The legal framework for overseeing military expenditure was not improved.
There were further dismissals and arrests of officers in relation to the coup attempt of July 2016.
Situation in the east and south-east
The situation in the south-east remained very worrying. The government carried out domestic and cross-border security and military operations in Iraq and Syria. The security situation remained precarious in border areas with recurrent terrorist acts by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which remains on the EU list of persons, groups and entities involved in acts of terrorism. The EU unambiguously condemned the PKK’s attacks and expressed solidarity with the families of the victims. While the government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is essential that it does so in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Anti-terror measures need to be proportionate. There were no developments on the resumption of a credible political process to achieve a peaceful and sustainable solution. 16
Visits by his family and lawyers to life-sentence serving PKK leader Öcalan were allowed only intermittently. There were renewed hunger strikes in several prisons demanding an end to Öcalan’s isolation and protesting against human rights violations in prisons.
Provincial governorates declared recurrent military security zones in rural settlements. The curfew in six districts of Diyarbakir's Sur municipality, in place since December 2015, was not lifted. The Venice Commission’s opinion on the legal framework governing curfews are yet to be implemented. Investigations into the deaths of civilians during security operations under curfews in 2015-2016 in towns such as Cizre did not progress.
Human rights organisations and opposition parties reported serious violations of human rights by security forces, including alleged instances of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and procedural rights violations in prisons and in police and gendarmerie establishments.
Eastern and south-eastern provincial governors declared frequent blanket bans on all demonstrations and events, with the longest repeated ban in Van in force since 2016. A very broad interpretation of the fight against terrorism, growing restrictions imposed on the rights of journalists, political opponents, bar associations and human rights defenders working on the Kurdish issue raised repeated concerns. Associations, Kurdish-language media outlets, and cultural rights institutions remained mostly closed. In April 2021, the Constitutional Court annulled a provision of the emergency decree that set the basis for the closures of media outlets on the ground of "posing a threat to national security” in 2016. The Constitutional Court also reversed a provision that paved the way for the seizure of the properties of those that were shut down.
Attempts to link the HDP to a terrorist organisation, and prosecute it accordingly, intensified. In June, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment demanding to close down the HDP, seeking political ban for 451 HDP executives, including the party’s co-chairs and all past and present members of Parliament and executives as well as a freeze on the party’s bank accounts. There were hundreds of new detentions and arrests of elected representatives and mayors, municipal council members and municipal executives in the east and south-east of Turkey on terrorism-related charges. Requests by the prosecution in the Parliament to lift the immunity of almost all HDP lawmakers are pending. Former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş was not released from prison despite two final ECtHR judgements ruling for his immediate release. The Constitutional Court’s ruling of June 2020 on the violation of Demirtaş’s right to liberty and security was not implemented.
Overall, 48 elected mayors were replaced by state appointed trustees, out of the 65 municipalities won by the HDP in the March 2019 local elections. Since the first trustee appointment in June 2019, 83 co-mayors were detained. Currently six HDP co-mayors are in prison, and five co-mayors are under house arrest. In metropolitan municipalities alone, almost 100 elected municipal assembly members were suspended. These dismissals and arrests triggered reactions across the political landscape and civil society, as well as from the international community. As a long-standing member of the Council of Europe and a candidate country, Turkey must safeguard its democratic system, including the freedom of political association.
Court cases launched against government-funded construction projects on cultural, historical, and religious heritage sites damaged in 2015 and 2016 are ongoing. There were renewed tensions around several projects, which are considered to be culturally and environmentally destructive, such as the mining project in Tunceli Mountains, which is part of a national park and a sacred site for Alevis. The Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River flooded most of the historic town in Hasankeyf and surrounding sites, natural habitats and historical heritage. The serious risk of such damages had been raised for years by residents and activists. 17
There was still no comprehensive, consistent approach in place in relation to missing persons, to the exhumation of mass graves or to the independent investigation of all alleged cases of extrajudicial killing by security and law enforcement officers. Most of the investigations into cases of enforced disappearance from the 1990s have faced the 20-year statute of limitations. Out of more than 1 400 cases of missing persons, only 16 court cases have been launched. 14 ended in acquittals of the alleged perpetrators, two are ongoing and two other cases are before the Court of Cassation.
Refugees and internally displaced persons
Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide. According to Turkey’s Directorate-General of Migration Management, Turkey hosted 3 670 342 Syrian refugees with temporary protection status, some 92 000 Syrians with legal residency and 110 000 Syrians with Turkish citizenship. The number of Syrian refugees who voluntarily returned to Syria from Turkey stood at 420 000 according to the Turkish government. Besides the Syrian refugees, Turkey hosts 320 000 asylum-seekers and refugees from countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia as of January 2021, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In 2020, Turkey granted international protection (refugee status, conditional refugee status or, subsidiary protection) to 8 753 applicants (5 449 in 2019). The authorities rejected 10 674 applications compared with 5 212 in 2019. The backlog of international protection applications remains high. Human rights organisations and lawyers reported challenges with access to registration in several provinces. Barriers to registration compound vulnerability of applicants as they increase the risk of detention and deportation. In December 2020, 886 653 foreign nationals holding residence permits were present in Turkey, including humanitarian residence holders.
Turkey continued to refuse to resume the readmission of returnees from the Greek islands, interrupted in March 2020, citing COVID-19 restrictions despite the European Commission’s repeated requests to fully implement all the provisions of the EU-Turkey Statement. However, resettlement of Syrians from Turkey to the EU Member States resumed in July 2020 with the necessary health precautions in place.
Disaggregated data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees was not available. The pandemic had a disproportionately negative effect on vulnerable groups including refugees and internally displaced persons, who were already living in dire economic conditions. Many refugees lost jobs in the informal sectors of the economy. Others continued to be exploited in the informal economy and their poverty and unregistered status inhibited access to health care, social security, benefits and other services. Administrative requirements, restrictions on the freedom of movement and prejudice were among the main obstacles to secure a formal (legal) employment.
Turkey made sustained significant efforts to provide support for refugees and ensure wider access to healthcare and schooling, with 768 839 children enrolled in formal education by December 2020, compared to 684 728 children in 2019. However, more than 400 000 school-aged refugee children were still out-of-school and did not have any access to education opportunities. Syrian refugees continued to benefit from free-of-charge healthcare provided in 177 Migrant Health Centres funded by the EU through its Facility for Refugees in Turkey and in Turkish hospitals. Many cities continued to enhance municipal services and infrastructure to respond to the population increase as a result of the influx of refugees.
Turkey needs to further align its practice with European standards in removal centres, in particular with regard to protection of human rights, including access to legal counselling and 18
interpreters and protection of vulnerable groups, in particular children staying with their families.
There was limited progress on the situation of internally displaced persons resulting from the violence in the south-east in the 1990s and in more recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated economic exclusion and deteriorating living conditions for internally displaced persons.
2.1.2. Public Administration Reform
Turkey has some level of preparation/is moderately prepared in the field of public administration reform. There was no progress during the reporting period. Overall, the country lacks a comprehensive public administration reform agenda and a relevant leading institution in charge. Concerns remained over the accountability of the administration and human resources management. The political will to reform is still lacking. Policymaking is not evidence-based or participatory. The politicisation of the administration continued. Women’s representation remained low in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. Last year’s recommendations were not implemented.
In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
prepare and present an inter-institutional public administration reform plan in line with EU principles and values, and with the necessary political ownership and support;
ensure that the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures provides for an effective remedy, which safeguards the right of every individual to a fair administrative process;
introduce merit-based appointments and promotions for the senior managerial positions of the civil service.
Strategic framework for public administration reform
Turkey has not produced an overarching strategy or planning document on public administration reform. The continued absence of political support and the limited ownership shown by the administration have further compromised the conditions for a comprehensive governance reform. Several planning documents and sectoral policy documents on various aspects of public administration reform exist but provide only a fragmented framework. Most of these policy documents do not specify the expected costs of reform measures, so financial sustainability of public sector reforms is not guaranteed (see Chapter 32 – Financial control). An administrative unit legally entitled to coordinate, design, and monitor public administration reforms needs to be established. Such a unit would need to coordinate with the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, to ensure coherence of strategic and fiscal planning and efficiently address managerial accountability.
Policy development and coordination
The centralisation of policymaking under the presidential system continued. The collegiate decision making was further reduced by the stronger role of the Presidency. Policy coordination among central government institutions has remained strong in practice. The Presidential administration and the Presidential Councils continued to play an increasing role in policy making, while the policymaking role of ministries further diminished. Most regulatory authorities are linked by law to the Presidency.
The link between policymaking and financial planning remains weak. An inclusive and evidence-based policymaking process is still absent and there is no legal obligation for the 19
Presidency and ministries to conduct public consultations. During the reporting period, public consultations seldom took place.
Evidence-based policymaking instruments, such as regulatory impact assessments were not used by the executive and by the legislative branch which has no resources to conduct them. In the absence of systematic ex-post monitoring and public reporting on the implementation of key government programmes, the public scrutiny of government's work has remained inadequate, contributing to the lack of accountability of the administration.
Public financial management
Turkey continues lacking an overarching public financial management reform programme. The annual budget is prepared as part of the medium-term budgetary framework. Public procurement legislation is not in line with the EU acquis. The vast number of exemptions inserted into the Law on Public Procurement disrupts public transparency and accountability (See also Chapter 5). In the absence of adequate ex-post monitoring and reporting, major public investment programmes lack transparency. There is no clear strategy for domestic revenue mobilisation; ad hoc tax changes continued (see also Chapter 16). The implementation of the strategy and an action plan for the fight against the informal economy (2019-2021) continued at a good pace.
As regards external audit, the Turkish Court of Accounts’ ex-post controls continued to provide substantive information for parliamentary oversight as well as for the public. The Court of Accounts’ reports produced mass media coverage about alleged corruption and misuse of public resources. However, there remained certain shortcomings. Under the Law on the Turkish Court of Accounts, certain institutions are exempted from the Court’s remit and, thus, from the associated parliamentary scrutiny. The parliamentary and judicial follow-up to audit reports need to be improved.
The limited parliamentary oversight of the budget resulted in reduced budget transparency. The Turkish State Wealth Fund lacks accountability and transparency; its investments and borrowing is not integrated into the budget. Annual budgetary figures are aggregated and the budget reports are hard to comprehend. Opportunities for citizens to engage in the budgetary process were absent in the reporting period.
Public service and human resources management
The civil service remains substantially governed by the Civil Servants’ Act of 1965. The need for new legislation on the public service has been raised several times, but a non-systematic approach continued to prevail. Turkey is still missing an overall civil service strategy and overall monitoring report on the implementation of civil service policy.
The civil service legal framework does not guarantee neutrality, continuity or merit-based recruitment and promotion procedures. Numerous reported incidents affirmed the politicisation of the civil service. The President dismissed two Central Bank Governors in the reporting period. Moreover, between March and May 2021, the President dismissed and replaced four of the Central Bank’s seven-member Monetary Policy Committee. The first phase of external recruitment for entry-level positions is based on merit, whereas the oral interview phase remains poorly regulated and thus open to political patronage. Nepotism was prevalent in the absence of competitive objective criteria for the top civil service posts and access to top civil service positions was prone to political interference.
Accountability of the administration
In the presidential system, the organisation of the state administration follows centralised lines of accountability to the Presidency. Accountability of agencies remains largely weak 20
and internal control and audit does not function effectively. Most executive institutions are formally embedded in ministries, although they retain autonomy over day-to-day operational management. The roles and responsibilities of different institutions are still not fully clear, which has a negative impact on efficiency, transparency and accountability.
State institutions are required to submit annual accountability reports on the use of resources to achieve targets, but a systematic follow-up mechanism by the executive was not put in place. Institutions lack a culture of managerial accountability and delegation of responsibilities (see Chapter 32 - Financial control).
Citizens’ right to good administration is formally ensured through relevant internal and external oversight arrangements, such as internal audit and control units, and the Turkish Court of Accounts. The impact of the control functions was however limited. The role of oversight institutions such as the Ombudsman remained limited in the absence of ex officio powers (see Governance).
The right to access public information is regulated by the Law on the Right to Information. There is no centralised independent body in charge of overseeing the implementation of the law. The law allows for broad exemptions on grounds of protecting state secrets, commercial secrets and personal data. The absence of a revised legislation covering those areas of exemption, limits the citizens’ access to information.
Easy online access led to about 1.3 million applications for access to information in 2020, with 7 % of refusals.
Concerns remain as regards the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures. There are 11 544 applications pending. Strong concerns remain as to whether each case is being examined individually, the rights of defence of those dismissed are respected and the assessment procedure is in line with international standards. Since there were no hearings, there was a general lack of procedural rights for applicants and decisions were taken on the basis of the written files related to the original dismissal, all of which called into question the extent to which the Inquiry Commission is an effective judicial remedy.
Service delivery to citizens and businesses
There is still no law on general administrative procedures in Turkey. The lack of such legal framework makes it difficult to assess to what extent the principles of good administration are guaranteed and hinders work on simplifying administrative procedures as well as cutting red tape. In this context, citizens and businesses are faced with increasing legal uncertainty.
There is no central policy or co-ordination mechanism for improving horizontally the overall quality of services. Most of the institutions developed service delivery standards within their own legal remit. No institution is responsible for overall promotion or measurement of the quality of public services. Given the particular conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-government services and administrative simplification progressed further. The number of e-government users exceeded 54.2 million. Ministries, central government agencies and municipalities developed their online services. 21
2.2. Rule of law and fundamental rights
Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights
The EU’s founding values include the rule of law and respect for human rights. An effective (independent, of quality and efficient) judicial system and effective fight against corruption are of paramount importance, as is respect for fundamental rights in law and in practice.
Turkey is at an early stage of applying the EU acquis and European standards in this area. Serious backsliding continued during the reporting period. Major issues identified in previous reports were not addressed, in particular the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and the urgent need to improve the human rights situation. A new human rights action plan, while a welcomed initiative in principle, did not present concrete steps to remedy the most acute problems in this area.
Undue pressure on judges and prosecutors continued to have a significant negative effect on the independence and the overall quality of the judiciary. The negative effects of the large-scale dismissals of judges and prosecutors continued to weigh on the efficiency and professionalism of the judiciary. Turkey’s refusal to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights further increased concerns regarding its judiciary’s adherence to the international and European standards.
Corruption remained widespread and continued to be an issue of concern. There was no progress in addressing the many gaps in the Turkish anti-corruption framework, which is a sign of a lack of will to fight decisively corruption.
Serious backsliding continued on human rights. Broad restrictions imposed on the activities of journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders and critical voices continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of their freedoms. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention raised further concerns about its adherence to international human rights standards. The damage caused by the state of emergency on the fundamental rights and the related legislation adopted was not remedied.
Functioning of the judiciary
Turkey is at an early stage in this area. Serious backsliding continued as further judicial decisions contradicted the ECtHR case law. The new human rights action plan envisages certain measures to improve the independence of the judiciary. However, the human rights action plan does not address any of the key shortcomings related to the independence of the judiciary. Despite their acquittal, none of the judges or prosecutors dismissed following the coup attempt were reinstated. The lack of objective, merit-based, uniform and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors remains a source of concern. No changes were made to the institution of criminal law judges of peace and concerns remain regarding their jurisdiction and practice.
The recommendations of last year were not addressed. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
create a political and legal environment that allows the judiciary to perform its duties independently and impartially, respecting European standards; strengthen judicial responsibilities, with the executive and legislature fully respecting the separation of powers; and ensure that lower courts respect judgments by the Constitutional Court, whose decisions should follow ECtHR jurisprudence;
amend the structure and process of selecting the members of the Council of Judges and
Prosecutors so that the role and influence of the executive is limited, and introduce safeguards against any interference by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors or high level officials in judicial proceedings;
provide effective guarantees against transfers of judges without their consent;
in accordance with the guaranteed judicial independence under the Constitution, limit any suspension of judges from office to cases where there are well-founded suspicions of serious misbehaviour and take measures to remedy the damage caused by the dismissals that took place in breach of procedural rights;
revise the system of disciplinary proceedings so that it is based on objective criteria without undue influence from the executive;
in relation to the administrative and judicial measure taken against individuals, ensure that any allegation of wrongdoing or crime is subject to due process, based on concrete evidence, in line with fully transparent procedures under the authority of an independent judiciary;
ensure that all judicial proceedings respect fundamental rights, including procedural rights, in particular the presumption of innocence, individual criminal responsibility, legal certainty, the right to defence, the right to a fair trial, equality of arms and the right to an effective appeal.
The implementation of the Judicial Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 continued. The Judicial Reform Strategy Action Plan was announced in October 2020. According to the authorities, the rate of implementation of the Strategy is around 50 %. However, there is no evidence-based assessment of the results of its implementation.
A new human rights action plan announced in March 2021 foresees some notable improvements, including limited activities to improve the independence of the judiciary. However, it does not effectively address the key shortcomings to tackle the systemic lack of the independence of the judiciary. Most importantly, the human rights action plan does not address the Venice Commission’s opinion on the constitutional amendment of April 2017, referring to the principle of separation of powers and the revision of the structure of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors.
Concerns remain around the structure of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the lack of independence from the executive and the appointment process of its members. In accordance with the Constitution, four members out of 13 are appointed by the President and seven members are appointed by Parliament by qualified majority. None is elected by their peers. In May 2021, the President appointed four new members and the Parliament appointed seven new members. The remaining two seats are attributed ex officio to the Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister, who are also appointed by the President. The budget allocated to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors is 93 163 000 TRY (9 150 405 EUR) for 2020 and 103 209 000 TRY (10 148 850 EUR) for 2021.
Due to its lack of independence, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors remains suspended, since December 2016, from participating in the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary.
Independence and impartiality 23
Although judicial independence is set out in the Constitution and the relevant legislation, there were further concerns regarding the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. In June 2021, the Constitutional Court accepted the indictment to close the second largest opposition party HDP.
The shortcomings identified in the December 2016 opinion of the Venice Commission, related to the minimal standards for dismissals of judges as well as legal safeguards regarding the transfer of judges and prosecutors are yet to be addressed. Appeals against such transfers are possible but usually unsuccessful. Throughout 2020, the transfers of judges and prosecutors without their consent and without any justification apart from requirements of the service continued. In May 2021, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors transferred 3 070 judges and prosecutors, just before the end of the Council’s mandate. Overall, 3 968 judges and public prosecutors were dismissed for alleged links to the Gülen movement since the attempted coup.
The human rights action plan foresees a few activities to improve the independence of the judiciary, including the prevention of frequent transfer of judges, geographical guarantees for judges and prosecutors, a review of the disciplinary and promotion system of judges and prosecutors and an improved inspection system based on objective criteria. Most of these activities were already included in the Judicial Reform Strategy.
Representatives of the executive and the legislature continued to publicly criticise and openly reject the ECtHR case law and the Constitutional Court. The leader of the MHP, part of the ruling coalition, pleaded for the abolition of the Constitutional Court. The Council of Judges and Prosecutors took no action against the members of courts who refrained from abiding by Constitutional Court judgments. Judicial independence was further undermined by public comments of representatives from the executive and legislature, including from the President over ongoing judicial cases.
Justice professionals frequently resorted to pre-trial detention, while European standards consider it a last resort measure and for the shortest amount of time. The ECtHR concluded in several cases, including in the judgement of Selahattin Demirtaş, that the judicial authorities’ decision to extend the detention was based on grounds that were not sufficient to justify such decision and its duration.
The recommendations of the Venice Commission’s opinion on the criminal peace judgeships have not been implemented. Under the current system, criminal law judges of peace have far-reaching powers while objections to their decisions are not reviewed by a higher judicial body but by another criminal judge of peace.
Lawyers, especially those providing legal assistance to Human Rights Defenders and civil and political activists, faced considerable obstacles in performing their work, including pressure and external interferences. Such interferences entail the refusal of admissions to the profession of lawyer for those who were dismissed by a state of emergency decree. The elections of most of the Bar Associations were prevented from taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the elections of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations were not held.
Mechanisms to detect breaches of the integrity rules and enforce disciplinary penalties need to be made effective and free from political interference. However, they are undermined by the lack of independence of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Some members of the judiciary were subjected to sanctions for the legitimate exercise of their professional duties. The examination lodged in February 2020, by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors into the 24
three judges who acquitted the defendants in the Gezi Park trial due to a lack of evidence is still pending.
The obligation of judges and prosecutors to declare their assets every five years is still applicable. It remains important to have a credible and functioning verification system and to ensure that due follow-up is given to late or wrong declarations of assets. No information is available as to sanctions imposed in case of breach of this procedure.
Professionalism and competence
Recruitments of judges and prosecutors continued to be carried out through a non-transparent selection process. The Ministry of Justice supervises the selection boards for new judges and prosecutors, and manages their yearly appraisal. The Council of Judges and Prosecutors itself plays no role in the selection boards, even though it takes the final decision on recruitment. There was no progress concerning the establishment of objective, merit-based, uniform and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors. The legal exam introduced in October 2019 for prospective judges, lawyers or public notaries to be conducted by the Higher Education Council has yet to take place.
Quality of justice
The pre-service training of candidate judges and prosecutors as well as in-service trainings continued to be delivered by the Justice Academy of Turkey. While the Academy has scientific, administrative and financial autonomy by law, concerns remain related to its independence, as it has no general assembly or board of directors and the management is left to its president, who is appointed by the President of the Republic. The lack of independence of the Academy affects its capacity to provide training programmes that meet the requirements of openness, competence and impartiality. The European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) decided at its 2021 General Assembly to maintain the suspension of the observer status of the Judicial Academy of Turkey decided in 2017.
The human rights action plan envisages modifications of the seating order to ensure that defendants enjoy a more effective access to the legal assistance of a lawyer during the hearing. The objectives announced in the human rights action plan should also improve the quality of judicial decisions in terms of legal reasoning and factual evidence. Particularly in terrorism-related cases, there is a need to eliminate the concerns that evidence extracted coercively may be used to convict people. Evidence presented by the defence needs to be duly reflected in the court’s assessment. The system of confidentiality of decisions should be revised, as it is still used in many cases to limit access to justice and the right of defence.
Frequent transfers of judges and prosecutors continued to negatively affect the quality of justice along with posting of newly recruited judges and prosecutors with less experience to the criminal courts.
While the Judicial Reform Strategy aimed to increase the quality and quantity of human resources, this goal was not achieved yet and did not lead to a reduction of the current backlog of cases. The budget for the judiciary was almost TRY 20 billion in 2020 (around EUR 2.02 billion), representing 0.32 % of GDP and EUR 25 per inhabitant and TRY 24 billion for 2021 (around EUR 2.42 billion).
Large parts of the judiciary continued to be under severe pressure to handle cases in a timely manner, as the effects of the large-scale dismissals were still observed. Regarding the backlog of cases in the high courts, in June 2021 there were 43 372 pending cases for the Constitutional Court, compared to 36 265 in June 2020, and 133 428 for the Council of State 25
as of 31 March 2021. In 2020, the regional court of appeals received a total of 724 558 cases and dealt with 799 974 cases. It settled 780 193 cases. The Code of Procedures in general is free of formalism and does provide adequate tools in cases of urgency. Nevertheless, abusive delays are not sanctioned. Individual applications to the Constitutional Court continued to increase. Since the individual applications started in September 2012, it received a total of 295 038 individual applications as of 31 December 2020 and has concluded 257 108 of them. The Court has found violation of at least one of rights in 14 027 applications. The number of pending applications is 37 930. In 2020, 40 402 applications were lodged and 45 414 were concluded.
As of April 2021, there were 19.7 judges and 8.6 prosecutors per 100 000 inhabitants (against the European average of 21 judges/12 prosecutors per 100 000 inhabitants). There were 21 979 judges and prosecutors in total, 1 379 of whom were recruited in 2020.
Fight against corruption
Turkey is at an early stage in the fight against corruption and there was no progress during the reporting period. The country has not established anti-corruption bodies in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption, to which Turkey is party. The flaws of the legal framework and institutional architecture allowed undue political influence in the investigation and prosecution phases of corruption cases. The accountability and transparency of public institutions need to be improved. The absence of an anti-corruption strategy and action plan indicated a lack of will to fight decisively corruption. Most of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) outstanding recommendations have not been implemented. Overall, corruption is widespread and remains an issue of concern.
In this regard, the Commission’s recommendations of the last years are maintained. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
effectively implement its international obligations in relation to the fight against corruption, including adhering to the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the Council of Europe Conventions;
ensure effective follow-up to the recommendations issued by the GRECO, including by adopting the necessary legislation;
establish a track record of successful prosecution of, and convictions for high-level corruption;
adopt an anti-corruption strategy, reflecting a clear political will and vision to effectively address corruption, underpinned by a credible and realistic action plan.
The track record of investigation, prosecution and conviction in corruption cases remained poor, particularly in relation to high profile corruption cases implicating politicians and public officials. The President dismissed the Minister of Trade in April 2021, amidst allegations of a corruption scandal implicating her family members and advisors in public tenders. Despite suspicions raised by public revelations, no judicial investigation was launched. The main opposition party, CHP, filed a motion requesting a parliamentary inquiry commission to investigate the allegations. Corruption-related sentences need to be more dissuasive. The corruption perception remains high and was further exacerbated by public accusations from a mafia leader targeting several government members and public figures for their alleged involvement in corruption and other crime cases.
Institutional framework 26
Turkey has still not established any permanent, functionally independent anti-corruption body. Inspection units within the administration remained ineffective. The coordination between various preventive bodies such as the audit and inspection units and the prosecution offices remained inadequate. The legal framework of anti-corruption also remained weak in the private sector. There were no awareness-raising campaigns on anti-corruption.
There were no prosecution services nor courts specialised in anti-corruption cases. The executive exerted undue political influence over judicial police. Financial investigations were not systematically carried out in corruption and organised crime cases. Financial control of political parties remained ineffective.
Turkey is party to all international anti-corruption conventions. However, Turkey fails to fully align with the provisions of these conventions. Previous anti-corruption strategies and action plans have not been effectively followed up. The legislative reforms foreseen in previous anti-corruption strategies have not been undertaken. The legislation on whistle-blower protection and public procurement is not aligned with the EU acquis.
No tangible progress was made to implement GRECO’s recommendations. In its Second Interim Compliance Report under the Fourth Evaluation Round, published in March 2021, GRECO concluded that no changes intervened in Turkey since the adoption of the Interim Report in March 2019: out of 22 recommendations in the area of “Corruption prevention in respect of members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors”, only three remain satisfactorily implemented. Nine recommendations are still only partially implemented and ten recommendations remain not implemented. GRECO further underlined the absence of a law on ethical conduct for members of Parliament and the lack of measures to ensure integrity of Members of Parliament.
Under the Third Evaluation Round, officially closed in October 2020 after 10 years, Turkey implemented satisfactorily only seven of the 17 recommendations. More specifically, as regards the transparency of political financing which was assessed under that Round, only one GRECO recommendation out of nine has been fully implemented over the last 10 years.
Shortcomings remain unaddressed in the Criminal Code, which do not meet the standards put in place by the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. The significant number of exemptions included in the Law on Public Procurement created a grey area for corruption. The legal privileges and shelters of public officials, such as the requirement for prior authorisation from their hierarchy before starting an investigation of alleged wrongdoing, continued to provide legal protection for public officials in anti-corruption criminal and administrative investigations. The legal framework on preventing, prosecuting and issuing penalties for conflicts of interest as well as on declaring, verifying and disclosing assets remained inadequate and unaddressed. Turkey took no steps to align its legislation governing lobbying.
The 2010-2014 as well as 2016-2019 anti-corruption strategies and their respective action plans failed to meet most of their stated objectives. Outstanding measures have not yet been implemented. Turkey again failed to take measures that will strengthen its overall capacity to 27
coordinate, implement and monitor all anti-corruption actions among the relevant preventive institutions and law enforcement agencies.
The deterioration of human rights continued and no progress was made on last year’s recommendations. Many of the measures introduced during the state of emergency remain in force and continue to have a profound and devastating impact on people in Turkey. The legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights but the legislation and practice still need to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly continued its monitoring of Turkey’s respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Broad scale restrictions imposed on the activities of journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders and critical voices continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of their freedoms and lead to self-censorship. Turkey’s continued refusal to implement ECtHR rulings, notably in the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, further increased concerns regarding the judiciary’s adherence to the international and European standards.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention also questioned its commitment to such standards. The new human rights action plan, which promised reforms in a number of areas, does not address critical issues.
In addition to addressing the shortcomings set out in this section, which have still not been addressed, in the coming year Turkey should in particular:
align criminal and anti-terror legislation and their implementation with European standards, ECHR and ECtHR case-law and Venice Commission recommendations;
ensure that any allegation of offence is subject to due process, based on concrete evidence and fully transparent procedures under the authority of an independent and impartial judiciary, and fully respecting the right to a fair trial and relevant procedural rights, in particular the presumption of innocence, individual criminal responsibility, legal certainty, the right to defence, equality of arms and the right to an effective appeal;
ensure the effectiveness of the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures as a domestic remedy and that all public-sector employees arbitrarily dismissed during the state of emergency continue to be re-instated, and appropriately compensated for any harm, including loss of earnings;
effectively tackle all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, psychological and physical abuse, sexual harassment, rape, crimes committed in the name of “honour”, stalking, and forced marriage; implement measures to prevent violence against women, to protect the victims and to prosecute the perpetrators.
Turkey is a party to most international human rights instruments, although the respect for fundamental rights in practice continued to be undermined. The withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (“Istanbul Convention”) was widely considered to be an important setback. It also led to renewed legal debates regarding Turkey’s possibility to withdraw from other international conventions. In June 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled that the President has the authority to withdraw Turkey from international conventions by Presidential decree and rejected the request for the suspension of the enforcement of the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention made by a number of political parties and CSOs. Turkey has not yet signed the 28
International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The full monitoring procedure by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe continued.
In 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found violations of the ECHR in 97 cases (out of 104) relating mainly to freedom of expression, the right to liberty and security, protection of property, the right to fair trial, freedom of assembly and association, respect for private and family life and right to life. During the reporting period, 10 790 new applications were registered by the ECtHR. In January 2021, the total number of Turkish applications pending before the Court was 13 491. There are currently 225 cases against Turkey in the enhanced monitoring procedure.
In the case of Selahattin Demirtaş v. Turkey (No. 2), in December 2020, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ruled that by initially detaining Mr Demirtaş and then prolonging his detention for over four years, the Turkish Government had pursued an ulterior motive of preventing him from carrying out his political activities, depriving voters of their elected representative, and ‘stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate: the very core of the concept of a democratic society’. The ruling concluded that Turkey had violated Article 18 of the ECHR, while there were insufficient reasons for continued detention and ordered for his immediate release. The Court also stated that the continuation of Mr Demirtaş’ pre-trial detention would amount to prolongation of the violations of ECHR, as well as breach of Turkey’s obligation to abide by the Court’s judgment in accordance with Article 46(1) of ECHR. At the same time, the Grand Chamber found no violation of Article 5(4) ECHR concerning lack of speedy judicial review by the Turkish Constitutional Court.
In the case of Kavala v. Turkey, in March 2021 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe recalled the ECtHR’s findings that the applicant’s arrest and pre-trial detention took place in the absence of evidence to support a reasonable suspicion he had committed an offence (violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention) and pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders (violation of Article 18 taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1); and that the one year and nearly five months taken by the Constitutional Court to review his complaint was insufficiently “speedy”, given that his personal liberty was at stake (violation of Article 5 § 4). The Council of Ministers reiterated their call for the applicant’s immediate release. Finally, the Council of Ministers decided to examine the applicant’s situation at each regular and human rights meeting of the Committee until such time that he is released.
In March 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe reviewed Cyprus v. Turkey as well as Varnava and others. The Committee underlined that it remained urgent for the Turkish authorities to maintain their proactive approach to providing the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) with all necessary assistance. The Committee urged the Turkish authorities to provide the CMP proprio motu with all information from all the relevant Turkish archives, including military archives, relating to burial sites. The Committee noted with interest the information provided by the Turkish authorities on the progress of investigations conducted by the “Missing Persons Unit” in the northern part of Cyprus. Finally, the Committee insisted again firmly on the unconditional obligation of Turkey to pay without further delay the just satisfaction awarded by the European Court in Cyprus v. Turkey and Varnava v. Turkey.
Regarding the implementation of the Demopoulos v. Turkey decision of 5 March 2010, 6 856 applications from Greek Cypriot owners have to date been lodged with the Immovable Property Commission (IPC). As of June 2021, 1 227 applications had been concluded through 29
amicable settlements and 34 through formal hearings. Altogether, the IPC has so far paid out the equivalent of approximately EUR 368 million in compensation.
On the promotion and enforcement of human rights, a new human rights action plan was adopted and published in March 2021. The defined objectives of the human rights action plan include: a stronger system for the protection of human rights, strengthening the independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial, legal predictability and transparency, protection and enhancement of freedom of expression, association and religion, strengthening of individual liberty and security and safeguarding the physical and moral integrity and the private life of individuals. It also foresees to improve protection of property rights, protection of vulnerable groups, to strengthen social welfare, and provide a high-level administrative and social awareness on human rights. The human rights action plan foresees 393 activities to be implemented within two years. Several foreseen activities are repetitions of actions included in earlier strategy documents.
Although numerous consultations and workshops were held in the preparation of the human rights action plan, including with some rights-based civil society organisations, no advance draft of the human rights action plan was shared with relevant stakeholders. This prevented meaningful input on policy proposals. The Council of Europe and the European Commission were not consulted on the basis of an elaborated draft, only on an initial outline. The human rights action plan does not include specific objectives, activities, indicators, references and timelines. No evidence-based assessment of the implementation of the human rights action plan on the Prevention of ECHR violations (2014-2019), the previous strategy document in this area, was used to prepare the new action plan.
The human rights action plan does not address critical issues underpinning the deteriorating and worrying human rights situation in Turkey. In particular, the action plan does not address the primary criticism incorporated in the opinion of the Venice Commission on the constitutional amendment of April 2017, including on the independence of the judiciary. No concrete plans are presented for amending the Turkish Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law, the Internet Law, the Code on Criminal Procedures, and the Law on Enforcement of Sentences. The action plan does not refer to gender equality.
The Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (HREI) and the Ombudsman are the main human rights institutions. The Ombudsman Institution only processes complaints against the actions of the public administration and has no ex-officio powers while the HREI only accepts cases outside the remit of the Ombudsman. Neither of these institutions is operationally, structurally or financially independent, and their members are not appointed in compliance with the Paris Principles. The HREI has not applied for an accreditation to the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions and does not comply with the European Commission’s Recommendation on Standards for Equality Bodies.
The effectiveness of both institutions in dealing with applications is very limited. In 2020, HREI received 1 363 applications, visited 13 institutions including prisons and 10 visits were carried out by June 2021; 10 visit reports are pending. Certain HREI members demonstrated a negative attitude towards basic human rights, including gender equality, women's rights, LGBTIQ rights, and expressed support for the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, all of which contradict the stated objectives of the institution.
A total of 2 591 applications were filed to the Parliament’s Human Rights Inquiry Committee in 2020.
Human rights defenders faced increasing pressure through intimidation, judicial prosecutions, violent attacks, threats, surveillance, prolonged arbitrary detention and ill-30
treatment. This continued to have a chilling effect on the independent civil society. Smear campaigns by some media outlets close to the government and an aggressive rhetoric by high government officials towards human rights defenders continued to create a climate of fear and narrowed the space for critical views. Furthermore, lawyers providing legal assistance to human rights defenders and civil and political activists continued to face considerable obstacles in performing their work and were themselves at risk of arrest, detention and prosecution.
In January 2021, in the Gezi case of human rights defenders and civil society representatives, the Court of Appeals overturned the February 2020 ruling that had acquitted the nine defendants and imposed a travel ban on them.
The Turkish authorities did not follow up on the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ regular interim resolutions strongly urging Osman Kavala’s immediate release. In December 2020, the Constitutional Court also published its reasoned judgement where it rejected the second individual application of Osman Kavala, concluding that the applicant's right to personal liberty and security had not been violated. On 1 September 2021, an Istanbul Court ruled to prolong the detention of Mr Kavala.
The trials continued against the group of 11 human rights defenders in the Büyükada Island case for alleged links to a terrorist organisation. A regional court upheld the convictions of four of them, including the former director of Amnesty International Turkey on terrorist charges. The case is pending before the Court of Cassation where its Chief Prosecutor has demanded to acquit three defendants but to uphold the prison sentence for the former Amnesty International director.
In February 2021, the Minister of Interior harshly criticised the Human Rights Association following its press statement on the deaths of 13 Turkish citizens in northern Iraq's Gara region. Subsequently, the Human Rights Association chairperson was briefly detained by the police.
Many women human rights defenders and activists were detained and faced pecuniary fines while protesting against the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.
The court case regarding the killing of Lawyer Tahir Elçi in 2015, then chairperson of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, started in Diyarbakır in October 2020.
Concerning the right to life, no steps were taken to ensure credible and effective investigations into reported killings by the security authorities, which remains a serious concern. According to independent data, in 2020 the right to life of at least 3,291 people was violated. In March 2021, the Constitutional Court concluded that the right to life of a Nigerian citizen killed by the police during his detention in 2007 was violated, and sentenced the responsible police officer to 16 years of imprisonment. Two villagers in Van province who were taken away by a military helicopter and allegedly tortured after being detained in November 2020 applied to the Constitutional Court. One of the villagers subsequently died of his injuries. There is still no credible investigation carried out into this incident. As a positive development, the Diyarbakır Governorate gave permission in April to investigate a police officer in the case of a 12-year-old child killed in 2015.
Overall, impunity is a major source of concern. The legislation adopted in June 2016 granting judicial privileges to the security forces and increasing the risk of impunity is still in force. The authorities need to take urgent measures to align this legislation with the ECtHR case-law and standards. No measures were taken to effectively investigate and sanction the reported killings by the security authorities in the southeast, especially in relation to the events in 2015. In the court case on the killing of a university student during the Newroz celebrations in 31
Diyarbakır in 2017, the perpetrator police officer was acquitted in November 2020 of the charge of “killing with intent”. In many cases, authorities denied permission to prosecute public servants. Alleged cases of abductions and enforced disappearances by security or intelligence services in several provinces continue to be reported since the attempted coup with no adequate investigations carried out. The cases of at least two dozen persons allegedly abducted by state agents for many months have not yet been effectively investigated by the Turkish authorities. In April 2021, the Ministry of Interior issued a circular preventing citizens from recording videos of police officers during demonstrations, raising further concerns over the weakening of law enforcement officers’ accountability and the prevention of evidence collection.
Credible and grave allegations of torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. According to available reports, torture and ill-treatment still occur in detention centres, prisons and in informal places of detention as well as on the streets, mostly during demonstrations and meetings. There are reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment in prisons. Ill-treatment and excessive use of force took place in particular during the demonstrations in the Boğaziçi University protests and the Pride marches. There was an increase in the number of claims of strip searches while entering the prison facilities or while being detained. Although the legislation allows such practice in certain circumstances, rights activists and victims argue that strip searches are often implemented not in accordance with procedures. The publication of the pending 2016 report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) was not authorised by the authorities. The last CPT visit to Turkey took place in January 2021. The Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (HREI), which should act as the national preventive mechanism, does not meet the key requirements under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and is not yet effectively processing cases referred to it. Effective prison monitoring boards need to be set up.
The legislation, which allows for a maximum police custody period of up to 12 days, is in contravention of ECtHR case law (maximum of four days) and needs to be revised. Complaints, reports and any indications of torture or ill-treatment need to be investigated swiftly, effectively and impartially; perpetrators must be prosecuted and convicted in line with Turkey’s international obligations, in particular with the ECHR and the UNCAT.
Overcrowding and deteriorating prison conditions continue to be a source of deep concern. Turkey was the Council of Europe Member State with the highest overcrowding rate (127 inmates per 100 available places). The new human rights action plan includes an overall commitment to improve living conditions in prisons and address the well-being of juveniles.
Allegations continued of human rights violations in prisons, including arbitrary restrictions on the rights of detainees, denial of access to medical care and the use of torture, mistreatment, prevention of open visits, and solitary confinement.
Hunger strikes in some prisons demanded an end to PKK leader Öcalan’s isolation and an end to violations of detainees’ rights in prisons. Investigations of allegations of abuse and inhuman or degrading conditions continued to be limited, and the results of such investigations were not generally documented in a publicly accessible manner. Prison monitoring boards remained largely ineffective and the HREI, which should act as the national preventive mechanism is not independent. The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The Human Rights Inquiry Committee has received 3 363 applications on human rights violations from detainees and prisoners since June 2018 but has found no violations in any of the cases. 32
On the protection of personal data, no steps were taken to align the 2016 data protection law with the EU acquis. This constitutes an obstacle to the possible cooperation with Eurojust, Europol and, more generally, in a number of policy areas. Turkey still needs to address inter alia concerns on the exceptions for law enforcement and the independence of the Personal Data Protection Authority. Turkey still has not yet signed the 2018 Protocol amending the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Council of Europe, CETS No 223).
On freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of worship continued to be generally respected. The lack of legal personality of non-Muslim communities remains a serious issue and the Venice Commission recommendations on the legal status of non-Muslim religious communities and the right of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul to use the title “Ecumenical” have yet to be implemented. The long lasting problem of election procedures of minority foundations was not addressed. Several ECtHR judgments regarding conscientious objection are yet to be implemented. School textbooks need to be revised in order to remove all discriminatory elements against all religions and faith groups.
Following the decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque in July 2020, two UNESCO advisory missions took place in October 2020 and January/ February 2021, to review the impacts of change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora (another museum among the World Heritage Sites in Turkey that was converted into a mosque in August 2020), on the Outstanding Universal Value of the properties. No steps were taken to open the Halki (Heybeliada) Greek Orthodox Seminary, which remains closed since 1971.
Hate speech and hate crimes against Christians and Jews continued to be reported (see below - Minorities). Alevis faced hate crimes, and investigations in this regard remained ineffective. A comprehensive legal framework in line with European standards needs to be put in place, and appropriate attention must be paid to implementing the ECtHR judgments on compulsory religion and ethics classes and Alevi worship places. Protestants faced problems with recognition of their places of worship. Several foreign protestant clergy members were deported or denied entry and refused visa permits.
The increased work and influence of the Religious Affairs Presidency (Diyanet) continued in all spheres of public life. Its President publically targeted atheists in his several speeches.
Freedom of expression
Turkey is at an early stage in this area and the serious backsliding continued over the reporting period. Legislation and its implementation, especially related to national security and anti-terrorism provisions, continued to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards and to diverge from the case-law of the ECtHR. The dissemination of opposition voices and freedom of expression were negatively affected by the increasing pressure and restrictive measures. Criminal cases and convictions of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers, opposition politicians, students and social media users continued.
The Directorate of Communication linked to the Presidency, in charge of issuing press accreditation, continued to face strong criticism as a considerable number of press cards cancelled in 2020 were not renewed. The blocking and erasing of online content without a court order on an inappropriately wide range of grounds, based on the Internet Law and the general legal framework, continued. 33
The recommendations of the last four annual reports of the Commission were not addressed. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
release journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers and academics being held in pre-trial detention;
ensure a safe, plural and enabling environment for the media to carry out their work independently and without fear of reprisals and dismissals. This includes ending the practice, exercised by both state and non-state agents, of intimidating, interfering with and putting pressure on the media;
revise the existing legislation, in particular the Anti-Terror Law, the Criminal Code, the Data Protection Law and the Internet Law, to comply with European standards and ensure that it is implemented in a manner which does not curtail freedom of expression;
ensure that criminal law provisions on defamation and on other similar offences are not used as a means of putting pressure on critical voices.
Intimidation of journalists
Arrests, detentions, prosecutions, convictions and dismissals of media staff leading to censorship and self-censorship among media professionals further increased, including for their reporting activities on COVID - 19. Overall, an estimated 60 journalists were in prison. In 2020, at least 48 journalists were taken into custody, 23 journalists were sentenced to a total of 103 years in prison. As of January 2021, at least 353 journalists have been prosecuted in the last two and a half years. In 2020, trials were launched against at least 53 journalists. Threats and physical attacks on journalists and media organisations due to their work continued during the reporting period. Civil society organisations reported that in the first weeks of 2021, five opposition journalists from around Turkey were physically assaulted. In total, at least 18 journalists were attacked in 2020; attacks continued in 2021.
Judicial cases against critical newspapers continued. In November 2020, a Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of acquittal of 2019 of three defendants standing trial for having participated in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign in solidarity with the Özgür Gündem newspaper closed in 2016. There was no reparation for damages incurred by private media companies and their staff by the takeover by the state during and after the state of emergency.
The current legislation regarding anti-terrorism, the internet, intelligence services and the Criminal Code, all impede freedom of expression and run counter to European standards. Selective and arbitrary application of the legislation continued to raise concerns as it infringes the basic principles of the rule of law and right to a fair trial.
The criminal legislation continued to allow journalists’ prosecution and imprisonment on extensive charges of terrorism (see - Judiciary), insulting public officials, and/or allegedly committing crimes against the state and the government. Exercise of constitutional rights were cited as crimes and used as grounds for indictments, which often failed to establish direct and credible links with the alleged offence. For example participating in press statements, or trade union activities are cited as support to terror organisations. Critical journalists were intimidated with judicial investigations and court decisions. The space for civil society organisations was further limited by the criminal convictions and fines imposed on human rights defenders for participating in demonstrations, issuing press statements and carrying out 34
legitimate activities. The Press Advertisement Agency (BiK) continued to impose bans on public advertising for media that criticised the government.
The accreditation of journalists and the system of issuing press cards needs to be reformed. The removal of press cards on security grounds had a deterrent effect on the work of foreign correspondents in Turkey. According to the authorities, 1 238 press cards had been cancelled between December 2018 and December 2020.
The journalist and writer Ahmet Altan, who had been imprisoned for the last four years under controversial charges, was eventually released by the Court of Cassation in April 2021.
Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code on insulting the President, which foresees a maximum sentence of four years in prison, was used extensively to prosecute critical voices. Investigations, arrests and prosecutions of journalists, writers, opposition politicians, students, youth and social media users (including children), for insulting the President, continued.
As a matter of example, in March 2021 the Turkish Parliament revoked the parliamentarian status of opposition HDP deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu after the Court of Cassation upheld his prison sentence for “spreading terrorist propaganda” based on a retweet of a newspaper article that was still online at the date of reporting.
In April 2021, an investigation was launched against officials of the opposition party CHP for allegedly insulting the President, after they accused the government of causing the Central Bank to run out of foreign exchange reserves and requested transparency on this issue.
In April 2021, a judicial investigation was launched against 10 retired admirals, who signed a statement expressing their concerns over the government’s possible intention to withdraw from the 1936 Montreux Convention. In reaction, the President said that the retired admirals’ comments went beyond freedom of expression and aimed to inspire a military coup. The 10 former admirals were detained for eight days before being released under judicial control.
In several cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish Government violated Article 10 of the ECHR, including in the cases against journalist and MP Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet daily and singer Atilla Taş who got a prison sentence in relation to the coup attempt in July 2016.
According to independent data, the authorities detained at least 2 123 protesters in at least 320 peaceful assemblies on suspicion of “inciting hatred” and “violating the law on demonstrations” and for “resisting police orders.” The President, the leader of the MHP party and the Minister of Interior used inflammatory and polarising rhetoric calling the students “terrorists” and stigmatising the LGBTIQ community. After the appointment of a new rector to the Boğaziçi University by a presidential decision in January 2021, students from Boğaziçi and other universities supported by the university’s academics started protests. Many students were charged with inciting hatred and insulting religious values. In July 2021, by a presidential decision, the Boğaziçi Rector was taken off duty.
The Constitutional Court issued several judgements in individual applications in which it concluded that the right to freedom of expression was violated. In spite of a Constitutional Court decision of July 2019, that established a violation regarding individuals known as ‘Peace Academics’, and the consequent acquittals that followed, only very few academics were reinstated and received a negligible compensation. The State of Emergency Commission has still not examined a single ‘Peace Academics’ case since July 2017, when it started receiving applications. Few academics have applied to the Constitutional Court due to lack of decision by the State of Emergency Commission. 35
In April 2021, after an application of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Constitutional Court repealed the article of a statutory decree that paved the way for closing newspapers, television channels and agencies and seizing their assets during the state of emergency, on the grounds that they pose a threat to national security. According to the Constitutional Court, a court ruling is necessary even for a temporary closure, thus, the direct closure of media outlets constitutes the severest interference in fundamental rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, the decision on this issue came after many seized assets and licences had been sold.
There are no official statistics on banned websites, or the blockage of content based on decisions of criminal law judges of peace.
Public Service Broadcasters
The public service broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) is affiliated with the Presidential Communication Authority, and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The editorial policy of TRT closely reflects the government’s official lines. There was no improvement in the independence and neutrality of RTÜK. Members continue to be elected by Parliament without consultation of civil society or professional media organisations.
RTÜK continued to suspend and fine independent television and radio channels for their broadcasting content on the vague grounds that it is ‘contrary to the national and moral values of society, general morality and the principle of family protection’. It issued an excessive amount of monetary penalties on TV outlets critical of the government while mostly ignoring complaints against pro-government ones according to a report issued by a RTÜK member. RTÜK opened an investigation against a CHP deputy for "insulting the army" after he criticised the sale of a military factory to Qatar, and issued a pecuniary fine on Habertürk TV for airing his words. A new independent OLAY TV was closed down after 26 days of broadcasting due to pressures from the government.
The Broadcasting Law does not ensure fair competition, as it does not prevent monopolisation. The ownership of the Turkish media outlets lacks transparency and a few holding groups are close to the government, which undermines the independence of editorial policies. The economic pressure on independent media outlets was heightened because the state-sponsored advertising was not fairly distributed. The agency responsible for the distribution of the state advertising budget took no steps to increase its accountability and transparency, in particular it did not publish its annual reports. Independent and sustainable financing of the public service broadcaster is not ensured.
Amendments to the Internet Law, adopted in August 2020, now require social media companies with more than one million users in Turkey to establish an office in the country and locally store Turkish users’ data. Social media companies are also required to address court removal and/or blocking orders within 24 hours and individual users’ takedown and/or blocking requests within 48 hours. Social media companies face fines of TL 5 to 10 million if they fail to respond to takedown and blocking requests within the time specified and are obliged to pay compensation for damages incurred. As of April 2021, all companies, including Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube complied with the new legislation, raising concerns that the government will be able to easily require the removal of content deemed objectionable and companies will have little recourse to challenge such requests. 36
Professional organisations and working conditions
The representation of journalists is still divided between the professional journalists’ associations and the pro-government union. Journalism in Turkey continued to be a precarious and risky profession, with low wages, high risk of judicial harassment and lack of job security. Working conditions continue to be instable, trade union rights are insufficient and labour legislation is not properly applied. Obtaining press cards and arbitrary accreditations remain major problems. Investigative journalism, politically sensitive issues continue to be subject to editorial pressure, self-censorship and judicial harassment (see also Chapter 10 - Information society and media).
There was serious backsliding in the area of freedom of assembly and association where legislation and its implementation are not in line with the Turkish Constitution, European standards or with international conventions that Turkey is party to. There was an increase in application of bans, disproportionate interventions and excessive use of force in peaceful demonstrations, investigations, administrative fines and prosecutions against demonstrators on charges of terrorism-related activities. The applicable ECtHR case-law on freedom of assembly needs to be implemented without delay and relevant national laws need to be revised accordingly.
A new law adopted in December 2020 on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction risks to increase further the pressure over civil society organisations. This law was based on the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). However, there are strong concerns expressed by Turkish civil society, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and Commissioner for Human Rights as well as UN Special Rapporteurs regarding several aspects of the legislation. The law notably vests the authority to the Ministry of Interior and Provincial Governors to dismiss NGO executives based on ongoing "terrorism-related" investigations or convictions, as well as suspends the activities of NGOs. The Ministry and Governors are also authorised to monitor the NGOs' fundraising activities and impose penalties for unpermitted campaigns. Furthermore, all associations and foundations will be obliged to inform the Ministry on donations they receive coming from abroad. The law was not prepared in a participatory manner and was adopted in record time. Prior to its adoption, 694 independent civil society organisations issued a statement against the draft law. Several pro-AKP associations and foundations also campaigned against it. After the adoption of the law, many rights-based NGOs faced audits by the Ministry, especially those receiving foreign funds. Any measures taken to counter terrorism must comply with Turkey’s other obligations under international law, including in the area of human rights.
In January 2021, an amended regulation gave police and intelligence services access to military weaponry upon the Minister of Defence’s approval. Such weapons can be handed over in case of terrorism, societal incidents and acts of violence that seriously threaten national security, public order and public security.
Protests for political and socio-economic rights were banned in several provinces on many occasions. Demonstrations of dismissed civil servants demanding to be reinstated and of workers demonstrating for their health rights were stopped. 37 persons were sentenced for participating in the environmental protests organised in 2011 against the thermal power plant Project in Gerze. The power plant project was cancelled for violating the Law on Forests in 2015 but the protesters continued to be sentenced for their protests.
Newroz was celebrated by millions of people in the south-east on 20 March 2021. However, events and demonstrations related to the Kurdish issue, protests against the appointment of 37
trustees or organised by opposition groups were prohibited on security grounds. Several provincial governors, especially in the east and south-east, continued to use extraordinary powers contained in a law introduced after the end of the state of emergency to restrict the right to peaceful assembly, including through the imposition of blanket bans. In 2020, blanket bans on assemblies were issued 253 times and bans on specific assemblies were imposed 115 times.
The Law on Meetings and Demonstrations allows the administration to adopt decisions on the basis of abstract, discretionary and arbitrary criteria regarding the prohibition of meetings and demonstrations. Prohibitions based on the justification of disruption of public order, ensuring peace and internal security as well as a number of additional abstract claims were routinely used. In the 15-day bans imposed regularly by the provincial governorates in many provinces, reference is made to the relevant articles of the law and no justification is cited.
The appeals process of the case launched by the Human Rights Association to cancel the October 2018 regulation which obliges associations to disclose all their members to authorities, continued. Court cases against members and founders of the Rosa Women’s Association also continued. Rosa and other associations in the south-east were subject to police raids and operations. A court case was launched against 46 human rights defenders and relatives of victims of enforced disappearances who are part of the Saturday Mothers group in Istanbul.
Turkey’s new Green Party filed a court case against the Interior Ministry for failing to complete registration procedures after submission of all necessary documents for six months. A petition on the establishment of the Humanity and Freedom Party is pending before the Ministry for the past three years. A closure case against the Anadolu Kultur is pending.
Issues of labour and trade union rights are further covered in Chapter 19 - Social policy and employment.
On property rights, the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures is slow to issue decisions, lacks transparency and does not provide an effective domestic remedy for confiscations. In March 2021, the Directorate-General for Foundations (DGF) took over the ownership of the Taksim Gezi Park from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB). The IBB announced it would file a court case to contest this decision.
In the south-east, restoration of cultural and religious heritage and urban housing construction continued, as well as court cases regarding the 2016 expropriations in Sur. Regarding the implementation of the Law on Foundations to minority communities, most of the appeals for the restitution of property were pending either before a local court or before the ECtHR. The case of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Syriac Orthodox Church Foundation’s forestry lands was pending before the ECtHR Grand Chamber. Other cases in relation to the ownership of the land of the Mor Gabriel Monastery were ongoing. Other non-Muslim community foundations have properties not returned yet. Specific concerns regarding Christians and Jews in Antakya who are not covered by the Foundations Law were not addressed. The Council of Europe’s recommendations on protecting property rights and education rights still need to be fully implemented. The Council of Europe Resolution 1625 (2008) regarding property rights on the islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) still needs to be fully implemented. No steps were taken to revise the relevant legislation on the issue of property rights of non-Muslim minorities and legislation covering all issues of property rights.
In the field of non-discrimination, legislation is still not in line with European standards or enforced fully in practice. There are serious concerns that the Law on Security Investigations and Archive Checks of April 2021 will lead to profiling and discrimination of those selected 38
and appointed to public posts as well as to further politicisation and stigmatisation of large sections of the society. This law introduces a wide range of factors – not restricted to past final convictions – when making investigations. The HREI, which is also in charge of applying non-discrimination legislation, only finalised 43 decisions in 2020 out of 276 applications. School textbooks still need to be revised, especially regarding some content on secularism, religion and gender inequality. Turkey should urgently adopt a law on combating discrimination in line with the EU acquis as well as the ECHR, including sexual orientation and gender identity. No steps were taken to ratify Protocol 12 of the Convention, which provides for the general prohibition of discrimination, or to implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Hate crime legislation is still not in line with international standards and it does not cover hate offences based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender identity. Hate speech and hate crime are not prohibited by the anti-discrimination law. No progress was made towards the ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.
In the area of gender equality there was important backsliding on women’s rights. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), followed by the adoption of a presidential decision in March 2021, represents a clear regression on the rights of women and girls. This decision compromises the women and girls’ rights and combatting gender-based violence in Turkey, and sets a dangerous precedent. Following the withdrawal, hate speech increased in the media against women organisations. In July 2021, the Constitutional Court rejected the request for the suspension of the enforcement of the withdrawal and decided that it was within the President’s remit to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. On 1 June, the day Turkey officially withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, the President announced the Fourth National Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women (2021-2025).
The weak implementation of legislation and low quality of available support services, also exacerbated by a negative rhetoric from high-level officials and from some parts of the society against gender equality, remained of serious concern. Lack of judicial and administrative deterrence against perpetrators of crimes against women continued to be a matter of concern. A parliamentary commission was established to investigate the causes of violence against women and determine the measures to be taken. According to reports, 300 women were killed in 2021 and another 171 women died under suspicious circumstances. Turkey lacks a comprehensive data collection system in this area to assess the scale and nature of the issue. In court cases of violence against women, discretionary mitigation continued to be applied.
Other key issues are increased female unemployment and extreme poverty and hunger, especially in the east and south-east. Incest was reported by civil society to be increasing but there was no policy action or acknowledgement of this problem by the authorities. The promotion of stereotyped gender roles, including in the school textbooks and in the media, need to be addressed without delay. Statements by the Ministry of Interior targeting women’s organisations and feminists for alleged terrorist links threatened the existence of women’s associations. Independent women’s rights organisations continued to be largely excluded from the process of drafting relevant laws and developing policies and regulations regarding women’s issues. The Government should ensure that investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and the specialised services available to survivors and witnesses of violence are in line with international standards.
There was limited progress on the rights of the child. In October 2020, a dedicated 39
department was established under the Ministry of Justice, mandated to promote rights and services for vulnerable groups in the justice system. Despite the improvement of meeting rooms in courts, problems in the juvenile justice system persist. Juveniles continued to face arrest and detention on charges of membership of terrorist organisations, often for long periods and not always in specialised institutions for children. The quality of legal aid for juveniles and rehabilitation activities continued to be a matter of concern. Despite steps taken to improve conditions in the detention centres, allegations of ill-treatment continued to be reported. The draft National Strategy and Action Plan for the Prevention of Early and Forced Marriage is yet to be adopted. With the COVID-19 pandemic, gaps widened regarding access to quality inclusive education. Child protection mechanisms and services remained limited. Refugee children and their families were at a heightened risk and faced specific challenges in accessing the national child protection system.
Concerning the rights of persons with disabilities, Turkey lacks an independent implementation and monitoring framework in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Turkey lacks reliable, up-to-date data on the situation of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services prepared a “vision 2030 without barriers” policy document addressing the needs of persons with disabilities. Independent living and an inclusive, accessible society are among the eight priority policy areas. Turkey declared 2020 as the “Accessibility Year”, and launched a public information campaign including an accessibility award. An accessibility guideline for built environment was published. Still, the legal deadline for making public spaces more accessible was extended for the sixth time in July 2020. The number of accessible public buildings and public transport vehicles remained low and increased at a slow pace. The work of the National Monitoring and Evaluation Committee for the Convention needs to be stepped up. No national action plan on the rights of persons with disabilities is in place. Medical, charitable and paternalistic approaches remain dominant among the public and some public officials. Disability policies need to be mainstreamed across all policy areas and monitored with participation of disability organisations.
A family based early identification and intervention programme was launched to address developmental risks of young children. Alternative care options for children with disabilities in institutions should be expanded. Turkey continued capacity-building activities to promote inclusive education services at all levels. However, school closures due to the COVID-19 negatively affected access of children with disabilities to education, despite broadcasting school classes online and on TV. Participation at early childhood education level was particularly low. In the field of employment, the number of public servants with disabilities exceeded 57 000 in 2020, and the rate is close to 3 %. The employment rate in the private sector is much lower, partly due to limited physical accessibility, prejudices and skills mismatch. Turkey has no mental health legislation and no independent body to monitor mental health institutions.
The lack of protection of the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons raised further serious concerns. Hate speech and smear campaigns by government officials and media against the LGBTIQ community increased, notably following the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and during the Boğaziçi students’ protests. In February, the Boğaziçi LGBTI+ Studies Club was closed by a rectorate decision without proper justification.
High-level state officials regularly referred to national and moral values while targeting LGBTIQ. A criminal investigation was opened into the Ankara Bar Association after it filed a complaint against Diyanet’s President for his homophobic speech. The Minister of Interior and many media blamed the EU and the USA for funding LGBTIQ NGOs. 40
Discrimination, intimidation and violence against the LGBTIQ community continued to be a major problem, including against refugees. NGO reports indicated that a total of 1 476 hate speech items and discriminatory remarks about LGBTIQ were published in Turkish newspapers in 2020. Hate speech and crimes against LGBTIQ persons were not effectively prosecuted. In November 2020, the Ministry of Trade decided to impose an 18+ warning on "LGBT and rainbow-themed products" on e-commerce sites. The Ministry of Interior sent a letter to several city councils, inquiring about LGBTIQ councils, their activities and their budget. The court case against Middle East Technical University (METU) students who took part in a pride gathering on the university campus in May 2019 continued. The Regional Administrative Court approved the verdict of an Ankara administrative court to annul the "second indefinite ban on LGBTI+ activity" declared by the Governor's Office of Ankara in October 2018. Overall, freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression for LGBTIQ NGOs was largely restricted. LGBTIQ activities and pride parades were banned or prevented by police in several provinces, including the biggest one in Istanbul, in June. The police intervened violently against a journalist and LGBTIQ demonstrators and at least 20 persons were detained.
On procedural rights, efforts are needed to further align legislation with European standards. Due to its failure to respect procedural rules, Turkey has been repeatedly condemned by the ECtHR for violating the right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence. The anti-Terror Law still bans access to defence during the first 24 hours of police custody and the maximum detention period of up to 12 days before the detainee is brought before a judge is still in place. The lack of professional interpretation services in judicial proceedings continued to be a problem. The authorities undermined fair trial guarantees by targeting lawyers for their professional activities. Lawyers continued to be subject to increasing pressure, taken into custody, detained, exposed to legal harassment through investigations and criminal proceedings. Those dismissed by state of emergency decrees continued to be often barred from acting as lawyers, with a few exceptions following the July 2020 judgement of the Constitutional Court that this was a violation of their right to exercise their profession.
Hate speech and hate crime remain a serious issue for minorities. Acts of vandalism and destruction on minority worship places and cemeteries need to be investigated. Very few offenders were effectively prosecuted. No steps were taken to revise school textbooks to delete remnants of discriminatory references. The election of board members of minority foundations had been halted by the State since 2013 after annulment of the existing regulation. In March 2021, in a landmark ruling, an administrative court overruled the circular that had annulled the regulation. However, the Ankara Regional Court of Appeals recently decided that it is up to the Council of State (CoS) to decide on this issue. Therefore, minority foundations all over Turkey can still not hold their board member elections, pending the CoS judgement. In April 2021, a 25-month prison sentence was issued against a Syriac Orthodox Priest for allegedly aiding a terrorist organisation. State subsidies for minority schools had almost come to a halt. Subsidies to the newspapers run by members of the Armenian, Greek, and Jewish communities need to be granted by the Press Advertising Authority (BiK). The court case against public officials involved in the killing of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 ended in March 2021 with the acquittal of 37 of the 77 defendants. The files of 12 defendants who fled Turkey were separated because they could not be heard in this trial. The Parliamentary Human Rights Inquiry Committee established a sub-committee to look into the rights violations during the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Full respect for and protection of language, religion, culture, cultural heritage and fundamental rights of minorities in accordance with European standards have yet to be achieved. As the Venice Commission underlined in 2010, Turkey should continue the reform process and introduce legislation, 41
which makes it possible for all non-Muslim religious communities to acquire legal personality.
Concerning Roma, the Government declared 8 April as the “Roma Day”. Turkey’s first National Roma Strategy will expire in 2021 and has yielded limited results so far. A new national strategy is yet to be adopted. The authorities initiated measures to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy implementation but overall, the Roma community and independent civil society were not systematically and transparently involved. There are no sectoral strategies targeting Roma. The shift to distance education due to the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the participation of Roma children and youth in education, in the absence of access to internet or appropriate devices by many poverty-stricken households. Allegations of abuse of Roma children by wrongly diagnosing them with mental disabilities or learning difficulties continued. Employment and living conditions of Roma citizens deteriorated severely in the reporting period as most Roma did not have fixed incomes. No specific housing programme for Roma was completed, while several urban transformation projects covered Roma populated districts. Due to lack of title deed ownership by most Roma families, projects ended up with Roma moving out to find shelter elsewhere.
There is a need for increasing the availability of quality, relevant data for monitoring the socio-economic situation in Roma densely populated districts. A few cases of alleged hate speech towards Roma was reported and brought to courts by NGOs. The Ombudsman and the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey did not carry out specific work on Roma inclusion. No public awareness campaign on the rights of Roma were conducted in the reporting period. Turkey needs to develop intersectoral campaigns on rights of Roma women, as a gender sensitive approach is missing in the National Roma Strategy. Turkey also needs to ensure sustainable inclusion of Roma and other vulnerable groups in post-COVID-19 recovery measures. No EU-Turkey Joint Roma Seminar was held so far.
On cultural rights, the Government did not legalise the provision of public services in languages other than Turkish. Legal restrictions on mother-tongue education in primary and secondary schools remained in place. In April 2021, the Minister of National Education stated that no language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education. Optional courses in Kurdish are provided in public state schools, as well as university programmes in Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac and Zaza. In March 2021, the Ministry announced quotas for teacher appointments, and only three teachers were allocated for Kurdish elective language courses throughout Turkey. The increased powers of the governors and arbitrary censorship continued having a negative impact on arts and culture, already negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous efforts of ousted HDP municipalities to promote the creation of language and culture institutions in these provinces were further undermined. Kurdish cultural and language institutions, Kurdish media outlets and numerous art spaces remained closed in the aftermath of the coup attempt, which contributed to a further shrinking of cultural rights. (See also Chapter 26 - Education and culture).
2.2.3 Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security
The EU has common rules for border control, visas, external migration and asylum. Schengen cooperation entails the lifting of border controls inside the EU. There is also cooperation in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, and judicial, police and customs cooperation.
Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of justice, freedom and security. There was some progress, in particular in the area of migration and asylum policy. Some progress was made 42
on strengthening surveillance and protection capacity of the eastern land border. The return of irregular migrants from the Greek islands under the EU-Turkey Statement remained suspended since March 2020. Although the volume of irregular arrivals to Greece have fallen, smuggling routes to Italy and to the government-controlled areas of Cyprus are being increasingly used. Turkey has still not implemented the provisions relating to third-country nationals in the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, despite these entering into force in October 2017. Turkey continued to make significant efforts to host and meet the needs of almost four million refugees, and in preventing illegal crossings towards the EU. Turkey still needs to align its legislation on data protection with European standards. Most of the recommendations of last year were not addressed and remain valid. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
fully implement the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016, notably the returns from Greece and the prevention of irregular routes to all Member States and implement all the provisions of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement towards all EU Member States;
align legislation on personal data protection with European standards, to allow for the conclusion of an international agreement for the exchange of personal data between Europol and Turkey;
revise legislation and practices on terrorism in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights case-law and the EU acquis and practices. The proportionality principle should be observed in practice;
adopt and implement a strategy and action plan on border management with the aim to enhance coordination between border services at the national and international levels.
Fight against organised crime
Turkey has some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime; however there was limited progress overall. The majority of the recommendations from last year remain to be addressed.
In the coming year, Turkey should in particular:
collect and use aggregate statistics to facilitate threat assessment, policy development and implementation and improve the track record on dismantling criminal networks and confiscating criminal assets;
improve the legal framework regulating the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing further to the 2019 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Mutual Evaluation Report and in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission regarding the law on the prevention of financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
improve its legislation on cybercrime and witness protection;
establish an Asset Recovery Office in line with the EU acquis;
conclude an international agreement on cooperation with Eurojust.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
There are a number of specialised departments dealing with various forms of organised crime, under two main law enforcement agencies, namely the gendarmerie and the police under the Ministry of Interior (MoI). The Coast Guard Command is also an important force in the prevention of the crime of smuggling and trafficking in human beings. Operational capacity continued to be strengthened through new recruitments and trainings. 43
The legal framework for the fight against organised crime and police cooperation is partially aligned with the EU acquis. With the adoption of the law on prevention of financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in December 2020, certain provisions were introduced to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism regarding the confiscation of assets deriving from criminal activity (see below section on fight against terrorism).
The Ministry of Interior continued the implementation of the 2019-2021 action plan for the implementation of the National Strategy on Fight against Organised Crime. This is the second action plan implemented in line with the Strategy setting out actions to reach the overall aims, including an effective institutional cooperation and coordination, as well as stronger international cooperation. The Ministry of Interior reported that the implementation rate of the Action Plan reached 90 %.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Measures taken after the attempted coup of July 2016 continued to impact the professional capacity of the law enforcement agencies. In 2020, 126 personnel (officers, non-commissioned officers, civil servants) from the Coast Guard Command were dismissed (104 in 2019) mostly on the basis of terrorism-related investigations. Between January 2020 and April 2021, 2 915 personnel (officers, non-commissioned officers and specialised sergeants) from the gendarmerie were dismissed (2 304 in 2019) due to terrorism and other disciplinary charges. Around 14 900 personnel of the above categories have been recruited by the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard in the same period.
In 2020, 41 707 cases of organised crime (Articles 314, 315 and 220 of the Turkish Criminal Code) were adjudicated in front of criminal courts. 17 305 of these cases resulted in convictions with 21 043 persons being convicted (in 2019, there were 1 544 cases with 2 374 convictions). More than 600 operations have been carried out by the Gendarmerie and Turkish National Police (TNP) on organised crime, cybercrime, smuggling (including migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings).
The Gendarmerie strengthened its Department on Combatting Cybercrime with new human resources and trainings whereas the TNP carried out cyberpatrols working 24/7, including in the Dark Web. In 2020, 17 911 cases of cybercrime (Articles 243/1, 244, 103, 226 of the Turkish Criminal Code) were tried before a criminal court. 5 364 cases resulted in convictions of 5 778 persons.
Concerning firearms trafficking, 2 749 small and light weapons (SALW) were seized by the Gendarmerie and 141 614 by the TNP in the reporting period. In 2020, 519 cases of firearms trafficking (Articles 12 of the Turkish Criminal Code) were brought before a criminal court, 169 of these were concluded with a conviction involving 311 persons.
Cooperation between Europol and Turkey is based on the Strategic Agreement on Cooperation since July 2004. The completion of an international agreement on the exchange of personal data between Europol and the Turkish authorities competent for fighting serious crime and terrorism is still pending as the Turkish data protection legislation is still not in line with the EU acquis. A Turkish Liaison Officer is seconded to Europol since 2016.
In 2020, Turkey was involved in three cases of organised crime opened at Eurojust and participated in a coordination meeting organised in one of them.
A Cooperation Agreement with the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) has been in place since 2010. Exchange programmes and training programmes were carried out involving the Gendarmerie and the TNP. 44
Turkey raised criticism on the high number of extradition requests linked to terrorism offences that were not accepted (notably by EU countries) on grounds of refugee status or citizenship granted to the person concerned. Turkey also raised concerns on the high number of red notices issued for individuals wanted for terrorism that were either denied or deleted by INTERPOL.
Turkey continues to be an important transit and destination country for trafficking in human beings. By the end of 2020, the number of victims identified by Turkish authorities stood at 282, representing a slight increase compared to 2019 when the number of victims identified was 215. By April 2021, 104 victims of trafficking in human beings have been identified. The majority of victims have been subject to sexual exploitation followed by labour force exploitation. In 2020, 88 cases of trafficking in human beings (Article 80 of the Turkish Criminal Code) were brought before criminal courts of Turkey. 16 of these concluded with the conviction of 30 offenders.
In 2020, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) established a shelter for victims of human trafficking in Aydın, which brings the total capacity to hosts victims to 90. The Commission Coordinating the Fight against Human Trafficking encompassing representatives of DGMM, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary convened several times during 2020. Turkey provided various anti-trafficking training to law enforcements agencies, prosecutors and judges through national initiatives and funding from the international community.
Turkey worked with the Council of Europe (CoE) to improve the prevention and fight against trafficking in human beings through the implementation of the relevant CoE Convention. A new action plan on trafficking in human beings called for by the CoE Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) is outstanding. Skills and efforts to identify victims of trafficking in human beings by law enforcement agencies and the judiciary need to be strengthened in particular when considering the large number of vulnerable persons in the country. Public awareness on indicators of victimhood need to be enhanced to discourage exploitation. Trafficking for sexual exploitation and slavery, of persons in need of international protection should be investigated and monitored closely. Reasons leading to lack of prosecution of the crime of trafficking in human beings should be identified. Data on criminal incidents, apprehensions linked to the crime of trafficking in human beings, prosecutions, sentences should be analysed to develop a corresponding response.
Cooperation in the field of drugs
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
During the reporting period, no institutional changes were introduced. Turkey has developed a hierarchical multi-layer structure to fight against drug abuse. The High Council for the Fight against Drugs is responsible for inter-institutional coordination and monitoring. It includes all ministers involved in achieving the objectives of the National Strategy and Action to Combat Illegal Drugs for 2018-2023.
The Turkish Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (TMCDDA), attached to the Turkish National Police, has been a full member of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) since 2014. Its mandate is to monitor all aspects of the use and abuse of illicit drugs, both at national and international level. It is also in charge of drafting the annual Turkish Drug Report. The TMCDDA manages Turkey’s National Early Warning System (NEWS) on new psychoactive substances. A total of 928 new psychoactive substances have been included in the national legislation, 50 of which were put on the list in 2020, and an additional 10 in the first quarter of 2021. TMCDDA’s newly developed ‘instant 45
data flow system’ became operational. The system uses encryption and anonymisation to safeguard personal data, while processing aggregate data for monitoring and reporting to European and international organisations.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Turkey remains a transit route for drugs between Asia and Europe. In 2020, Turkish Law Enforcement conducted operations that resulted in the seizure of, inter alia, 93 741 221 kg of cannabis (including skunk), 1 960 kg of cocaine, 11 096 328 ecstasy tablets and 2 875 182 captagon tablets. Compared to 2020, there was an increase in the seized amounts of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy tablets, and a decrease in other mentioned illicit drugs.
In 2020, a total of 54 325 cases (58 354 in 2019) involving 75 907 suspects (78 226 in 2019) were initiated by the prosecution for illicit drug related offences, with 18 478 suspects (21 482 in 2019) convicted. Only 345 convictions were related to production and trafficking of drugs, while the rest concerned convicted dealers, suppliers and users. In the field of prevention, the Ministry of Health (MoH) operates 81 Counselling Centres in 64 provinces. In 2020, six new Centres became operational. In addition to MoH, Turkish NGOs also operate counselling centres. The Anti-Drug Counselling Hot Line received 52 660 calls in 2020. With the consent of the caller, return calls are made to monitor and follow up treatment processes.
There are 133 treatment centres for drug dependence in 24 provinces. 55 of the centres focus on inpatient treatment, with nine dedicated for children. The remaining 78 are outpatient centres, with 11 serving children exclusively. Interpretation services are available in treatment centres. In 2020, outpatient and inpatient treatment was provided to almost 212 000 patients in these centres.
Fight against terrorism
Turkish efforts to tackle terrorism resulted in an improved security climate, but Turkey still faces threats from terrorist groups. The EU has condemned all acts of terrorist violence perpetrated in Turkey. The Government has a legitimate right and responsibility to fight terrorism, but efforts need to be undertaken in accordance with the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Amending the Anti-Terror Law and practices in line with EU standards and the EU acquis remains an essential step.
In its threat perception, Turkey has prioritised the fight against the PKK and the dismantling of the Gülen movement. The PKK remains on the EU’s list of persons, groups and entities involved in acts of terrorism.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
The General Directorate of Security of the Ministry of Interior has a specialised police unit responsible for counter-terrorism. The institutional capabilities are well-developed. Turkey needs to bring its legislation on terrorism and corresponding practices in line with European standards.
Turkey also faces severe money laundering and terrorist financing risks. Aiming to mitigate these risks, Turkey has made progress in strengthening its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework over the years. The Financial Crimes Investigation Board, in coordination with other relevant institutions, prepared a comprehensive national risk assessment document in 2018. In line with this document and outstanding Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations, the country still needs to develop a comprehensive strategy and action plan on anti-money laundering and financing of terrorism. 46
In December 2020, Turkey adopted a law on the prevention of financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with a view to comply with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and the FATF recommendations. The law also addresses the outstanding FATF recommendations on tightening rules and regulations regarding NGOs to prevent financing of terrorism. However, there are strong concerns that the implementation of the law could further restrict the legitimate activities of NGOs and put additional pressure on critical voices. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe noted with concern that certain solutions chosen by the legislator go beyond the scope of the UN Security Council Resolutions and FATF recommendations, since the new provisions apply to all associations, irrespective of their goals and records of activities, and lead to far reaching consequences for basic human rights. The implementation of the Law, notably the provisions regulating the control of the NGOs, needs to be proportionate and pursue a risk-based approach. It is paramount that any measures taken to counter terrorism are in line with Turkey’s obligations under international law, and in particular international human rights law (see Chapter 23 - Judiciary and fundamental rights).
The effectiveness and timeliness of the asset freezing mechanism improved. The government, for the first time since the adoption of the Law on the Prevention of Financing of Terrorism in 2013, froze the assets of 377 people and organisations on grounds of terrorism-related charges in April 2021. Additionally, the most recent decisions of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee were effectively implemented within 24 hours through Presidential Decisions in 2021.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Turkey continued its efforts to fight home-grown and foreign terrorist fighter (FTF) cells. Cooperation continued with EU Member States on detecting and repatriating FTFs, which is one of the key areas of joint interest. Since 2011, Turkey issued entry bans for more than 100 000 foreigners and deported more than 8 000 foreign terrorist fighters or suspected foreign terrorist fighters, of which over 1 000 in 2020. However, police and judicial cooperation with EU Member States and EU agencies in combating terrorism remained limited due to the absence of a personal data protection law in line with European standards and the EU acquis, and differences over the definition of, and penalties for, terrorist offences. Turkey should continue its efforts to effectively prevent and counter radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism, in full compliance with fundamental rights.
The Turkish financial intelligence unit (MASAK) developed a strong institutional capacity and in cooperation with other financial institutions, established a sound track-record during the reporting period. MASAK increased its staff number by 51 recruits and opened a new branch in Istanbul. The number of suspicious transaction reports submitted to MASAK reached 237 531 and the number of files analysed by MASAK stood at 10 298 in 2020. The number of convictions for money laundering increased in recent years. There were 53 convictions for money laundering in 2018, which significantly increased to 95 convictions in 2019, and 92 convictions in 2020. In February 2021, the Ministry of Justice issued a circular, which envisaged launching systematic inter-agency financial investigations in money laundering and terrorism financing investigations. Still, the track record as well as the cooperation between the law enforcement agencies, prosecution and financial intelligence agency need to be further improved.
Legal and irregular migration
Institutional set-up and legal alignment 47
The Ministry of Interior’s Directorate-General of Migration Management (DGMM) is the key institution for managing migration in Turkey. The DGMM continued to employ a limited number of psychologists, social workers, interpreters, and lawyers, some of which are financed by the EU. Even though foreseen in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, DGMM has still not established its overseas organisation in consulates of Turkey abroad.
Turkey’s Strategy Document and National Action Plan on Irregular Migration covering the period 2019-2025 was endorsed by the Migration Board. The strategy was prepared with the technical assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with EU financial support. The action plan identifies institutions in charge of each strategic priority, timelines and indicators to measure the effectiveness of implementation. A six-monthly reporting mechanism is set up to monitor the implementation of the plan.
The implementing regulation following the amendment to the Law on Foreigners and International Protection introducing alternatives to detention, which entered into force in December 2019, still needs to be adopted.
Turkey set up a National Assisted Voluntary Return mechanism. A cooperation protocol between DGMM, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and the Red Crescent was signed in September 2020 to that end and a pilot return operation of 44 Afghanis was carried out in April 2021.
In February 2021, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) published a regulation that allows the MoI to assign designated private areas as Intermediary Agencies for carrying out procedures linked to the issuance of residence permits for foreigners and submitting the applications to the provincial directorates for migration management (PDMMs) for a residence permit on their behalf.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
The EU-Turkey Statement continued to be the main framework of cooperation between the EU and Turkey on migration. Following the events at Pazarkule border crossing point between Turkey and Greece in March 2020, the rhetoric on non-prevention of irregular migration to the EU gradually toned down. Turkey expressed interest in the renewal of the EU-Turkey Statement on a number of occasions.
According to the IOM, 72 migrants lost their lives in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2020. Additionally, at least 60 migrants died when a boat carrying them westwards sank in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. There was an average of around 40 daily irregular arrivals from Turkey to Greece in 2020, down from 202 in 2019. Migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia were recorded as the top three nationalities on the sea route to Greece, whereas nationals of Turkey, Afghanistan and Syria were the top three groups on the land route. Concerning the migratory routes to other Member States, Cyprus continued to be the second most common EU destination for irregular migrants arriving from Turkey (mostly via the non-government controlled areas). Overall, in 2020, around 5 800 irregular arrivals were recorded to Cyprus. Furthermore, the sea route to Italy saw an increase in smuggling activities with irregular arrivals from Turkey going up by more than 100 %. The total number of irregular arrivals from Turkey to the EU in 2020 was 18 736, against 75 974 in 2019.
As of August 2021, the total number of arrivals from Turkey to the EU was still around 20 % lower compared to the same period last year. The migratory pressure at the Turkish-Greek land and sea borders remained low (roughly 60 % less compared to 2020), whereas sustained migratory activity continued to be register along the sub-route to Italy (more than 100 % increase). The total number of irregular arrivals to Cyprus also increased by more than 40 %. 48
In parallel, the number of irregular migrants apprehended within Turkey also substantially decreased from 454 662 in 2019 to 122 302 in 2020, due to border closures and global restrictions to movement brought by COVID-19, as well as the reduced intensity of smuggling activities. As in the past years, irregular migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan were the most frequently apprehended nationalities. The Turkish Coast Guard rescued 20 380 irregular migrants at seas in the reporting period, compared to 60 802 in 2019. Turkey has persistently raised concerns about alleged migrant arrival prevention measures (so-called ‘pushbacks’) enforced by the Greek authorities in the Aegean Sea, but Greece has rejected these allegations.
No progress was made as regards the full implementation of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement. Turkey maintained its position that it would not implement the provisions concerning third-country nationals until the visa requirement for its citizens travelling to the Schengen Area is lifted. EU Member States lodged 498 readmission requests for Turkish nationals; 344 were accepted by Turkey and 74 were effectively readmitted.
Return of irregular migrants from the Greek islands was unilaterally suspended by Turkey on public health grounds in March 2020 and remained so as of June 2021. The Commission and Greece have repeatedly called on Turkey to resume return operations in line with the commitments made under the EU-Turkey Statement. The resumption of returns to Turkey remains key to effectively fight irregular migration and human smuggling networks in the region. Between 2016 and 2020, 2 140 persons, including 412 Syrian nationals, were readmitted to Turkey from Greece under the ‘One-for-One’ scheme. The bilateral Readmission Protocol between Greece and Turkey remained suspended. Turkey did not readmit third-country nationals from Bulgaria under either the bilateral border agreement or the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement.
As regards resettlement from Turkey to the EU under the ‘One-for-One’ scheme, 2 422 Syrian refugees were resettled to 11 Member States in the reporting period, despite the global suspension of resettlement operations in the first half of 2020 owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, the Resettlement Support Facility run by the European Asylum Support Office in Istanbul facilitated the processing of 1 017 resettlement candidates in 2020. The total number of Syrian refugees resettled from Turkey to the EU Member States under the ‘One-for-One’ scheme reached 30 477 as of 22 August 2021. At the same time, 422 258 Syrian refugees were voluntarily repatriated from Turkey to Syria between 2016 and 2020 according to the government. Of these, 101 000 were monitored by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with respect to the voluntary nature of the repatriations.
Turkey effectively returned 41 379 irregular migrants to third countries in 2020, against 103 858 in 2019. None of these was carried out within the scope of the readmission agreements that are in force between Turkey and third countries. Turkey did not sign any new readmission agreements in the reporting period.
Currently, Turkey hosts a sizeable number of the Afghan refugees. According to the Turkish authorities, in August 2021, Turkey hosted 300 000 Afghan nationals, 182 000 of whom were registered with the authorities. However, given the growing negative perception of migrants in Turkey, the Turkish authorities stated that Turkey is not able to admit more migrants. Turkish authorities are committed to strengthen border control at the eastern and southern borders and to resume return operations to Afghanistan as soon as possible. The Turkish government deployed additional police and gendarmerie forces to the border area and took measures to improve their border surveillance system. The President also announced the 49
acceleration of the ongoing construction of the security wall on the border between Turkey and Iran.
The number of removal centres stands at 26 with a total capacity of 16 108 people. Compared to the previous years, overcrowding was not observed in 2020, owing to the decrease in irregular crossings and apprehensions. Despite the increase in the number of lawyers handling cases in removal centres (from 4 187 in 2019 to 7 168 in 2020), access to legal counselling remained low, considering hundreds of thousands of migrants apprehended and placed in removal centres. Media, lawyers and NGOs reported incidents and allegations of human rights violations, including suicide, gender-based violence and barriers to accessing legal aid. The newly adopted human rights action plan foresees the establishment of an effective mechanism to review the complaints regarding the conditions in the Removal Centres.
The number of foreigners legally residing in Turkey stood at 886 653 at the end of 2020, down from 1 101 030 in 2019. This decrease was a consequence of the travel restrictions, the backlog of pending applications that could not be processed due to the restrictions, and the new stricter rules on the renewal of tourism resident permits. Following the reintroduction in September 2018 of the lowered minimum amount of investment required to apply for Turkish investor citizenship scheme, 16 653 foreign investors received Turkish citizenship. Such schemes pose risks as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration by organised crime. As a candidate country, Turkey should refrain from any measure that could jeopardise the attainment of the EU’s objectives when using its prerogatives to award nationality (see Chapter 4 – Free movement of capital).
DGMM carried out a series of meetings, trainings, and workshops with foreigners, students, academics, NGOs and staff of public administrations to implement the Harmonisation Strategy Document and National Action Plan adopted in 2018. Migration Information centres were set up in a number of provinces also with EU financial support.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
The DGMM is the main institution responsible for all asylum-related procedures. The status determination processes are carried across the provincial directorates of migration management (PDMMs) and are harmonised by the International Protection Bureaus (Decision Centres) in Ankara and Istanbul, established in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with a view to reduce case backlog. Specialising on interviews and drafting decisions, these Decision Centres processed 2 480 applications in 2020.
Legislation in this area is partially aligned with the EU acquis. The Law on Foreigners and International Protection maintains the reservation (geographical limitation) expressed in the New York Protocol of the 1951 Geneva Convention, according to which the vast majority of persons seeking international protection in Turkey cannot apply for fully-fledged refugee status but for ‘conditional refugee’ status and subsidiary protection only. Conditional refugee status limits the stay in the country ‘until the moment a recognised conditional refugee is resettled to a third country’. Syrian refugees are granted a specific refugee status under the Temporary Protection Regulation.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Turkey continued to host the largest refugee community in the world, with 3.7 million Syrians under temporary protection and more than 320 000 non-Syrians including those who hold or applied for international protection status. The number of asylum seekers declined over the 50
reporting period; 31 334 international protection applications were lodged in 2020, down from 56 417 in 2019. This is partly explained by overall decrease in cross-border migratory movements due to COVID-19 restrictions and reflects the global decrease in asylum applications. Of the 31 334 applications, 22 606 were Afghans, 5 875 were Iraqis and 1 425 were Iranians. In 2020, Turkey granted international protection (refugee status, conditional refugee status or subsidiary protection) to 8 753 applicants, a notable increase from 5 449 in 2019. The authorities rejected 10 674 applications compared to 5 212 in 2019.
NGOs reported considerable challenges with access to registration in the first place, where individuals wishing to lodge an application in PDMMs are referred to other PDMMs, without a formal documentation and referral system. Such de-facto barriers to registration hinder access to all other essential services and put asylum seekers in an irregular situation if apprehended. Effective access to international protection at borders, airports and removal centres remain limited as reported by NGOs and lawyers. As of December 2020, 237 interpreters worked at PDMMs and Decision Centres, particularly for status determination interviews. The availability of interpretation services needs to be further improved.
While a large majority of Syrians are registered and reside in various provinces across Turkey, 57 321 Syrians are hosted in seven temporary accommodation centres, down from 63 518 in 2019. Throughout 2020, the DGMM continued the verification of data of Syrians under temporary protection, updating and completing the information gathered during their original registration. In 2020, 895 499 new verification procedures were carried out.
The DGMM uses GöçNet, a government database containing data on applicants for temporary and international protection, including biometric data in the form of photos and fingerprints. The police and gendarmerie have access to GöçNet.
Cooperation between the DGMM and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) continued in 2020 with the implementation of the EASO-DGMM Cooperation Roadmap 2019-2021, which aims to support the DGMM in areas relating to country of origin information, training system, decision centres and mobile units, information management and analysis, people with special needs and contingency planning.
The Turkish authorities increased efforts to facilitate entrance to the labour market and encourage legal employment. Applicants for international protection, conditional refugee status holders and people under temporary protection (Syrians) can apply for work permits. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the unemployment rate among refugees by 88 % since March 2020, with 63 % of them being food insecure, according to recent NGO reports.
In 2020, the full operational budget of EUR 6 billion of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRIT) was committed and contracted, with over EUR 4.2 billion disbursed by August 2021. On top of the Facility, the EU also committed EUR 535 million to continue humanitarian support to refugees. The fifth annual report on the EU Facility for refugees in Turkey provides evidence of the results achieved so far, and how vital the Facility is in supporting refugees and host communities in Turkey. The Facility mobilises both humanitarian and development assistance for refugees and host communities in Turkey to meet basic needs, increase access to education and healthcare, including for vulnerable groups, children and women.
Turkey made no progress in meeting the six unfulfilled benchmarks of the visa liberalisation roadmap, namely on the anti-terror law, personal data protection legislation, the implementation of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, cooperation agreement with 51
Europol, implementation of the GRECO recommendations on anti-corruption, and the judicial cooperation with all EU Member States. Negotiations are ongoing with a view to concluding an international agreement between Europol and Turkey.
Turkey changed its visa policy towards Iraqi nationals by abolishing the possibility of electronic visa and lifted the passport requirement for short stays entries for the nationals of Azerbaijan.
Turkey needs to further harmonise its visa policy with the EU’s visa policy. This would include further aligning Turkish visa requirements with the EU lists of visa-free and visa-required countries, full phasing-out of the issuing of visas at borders (currently citizens of 24 countries are eligible to obtain visa on arrival) and of electronic visas, and ensuring that the issuing of visas at its diplomatic missions is carried out in line with the conditions and procedures set out in the EU Visa Code. Turkey continues to apply a discriminatory visa regime towards Cyprus, while it has abolished short stay visa requirements for 26 EU Member States.
Schengen and external borders
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
During the reporting period, no new legislation was adopted. The coordination of the work of the state bodies dealing with border management matters is the responsibility of the Directorate-General of Provincial Administration under the Ministry of Interior (MoI). The Border Management Implementation Board, which should meet twice a year, met for the fourth time in October 2020 since its establishment in 2016. Its supervising body, the Integrated Border Management Coordination Board, has not met so far.
The National Coordination and Joint Risk Analysis Centre in Ankara, which was also formally established by the above Regulation in 2016 and which has received significant EU funding, has not become operational yet.
In February 2021, the institute of Heads of Civil Border Administration was established by Presidential Decree, taking over the border management responsibilities from Governors in eleven border regions (mostly in the East of the country). The basic aim of this reform step was to strengthen coordination of border management matters at central level under the supervision of Directorate-General of Provincial Administration. In addition, two departments of the MoI in charge of irregular migration matters, the Counter Trafficking of Migrants and the Border Gates Departments, were merged into one service in 2020.
In order to bring the country’s border management system in line with the EU acquis, Turkey should further enhance inter-service and international cooperation, accelerate the adoption of an Integrated Border Management (IBM) strategy and update its National Action Plan to Implement Turkey’s IBM Strategy of 2006. It also needs to enact new legislation to set up a non-military border management body in charge of all aspects of border management, including border surveillance at the ‘green’ border, which is currently under the responsibility of the Turkish Land Forces. Turkey has committed to remove all anti-personnel landmines by 31 March 2022, in order to fulfil its obligations under the Ottawa Treaty. So far, only a small border stretch of a total of 2 949 km has been cleaned entirely. Turkey needs to increase substantially national investment to clean mined areas along the border with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia as well as inside Turkey. Significant financial support for de-mining is currently provided by the EU.
Implementation and enforcement capacity 52
Turkey continued investing significant efforts and financial means in the modernisation of border security at the land frontier. After the construction of a wall and a barbed-wire fence, along the Syrian border, similar works, including the installation of modern communication and surveillance masts, continued at the Iranian border, partially funded by the EU. Identical masts are being erected also at the Western land border.
Relations with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which are based on a three-year Cooperation Plan covering the period 2020-2022, were negatively impacted by incidents at the Greek-Turkish land border and the Aegean Sea. Turkey does not participate in Joint Operations of Frontex. Frontex has a liaison officer permanently based in Ankara. Cooperation with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria in the framework of a trilateral Police and Customs Co-operation Centre at the Bulgarian-Turkish border crossing point Kapitan Andreevo/Kapıkule continued.
Judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters
Judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters is regulated by the Law on International Civil Law and Procedural Law, circulars, and international conventions. Turkey is a party to most of the international conventions. Turkey still needs to accede to relevant international conventions in the area of civil justice, many of which were drawn by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, including in particular the Hague Convention of 30 June 2005 on Choice of Court Agreements. Turkey has not yet ratified the European Convention on the Compensation of Victims. More effective measures are needed to ensure an acceptable reduction in delays to proceedings resulting from the 1980 Hague Convention on civil aspects of international child abduction and to foster the use of international mediation in such cases.
The main legislation governing the judicial cooperation in criminal matters is in place since 2016 and Turkey has acceded to most of the international conventions. The new legislation entails new mechanisms to speed up the international judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which has started to yield positive results. 13 mutual legal assistance requests following the introduction of video conferencing have been processed, out of which two have been finalised. Under the new ‘consensual extradition’ procedure, extradition of an offender now takes 1-2 months in average as opposed to classic extradition procedure lasting around a year. As for the transfer of sentenced persons, introduction of the procedure of ‘exact execution’ paved the way to the removal of the obligation of local courts to comply with the domestic legislation. In 2020, under the new procedure, overall 42 convicts were transferred to Turkey from other countries, while five convicts were transferred from Turkey to other countries. However, the independence and accountability of the justice system has to be substantially strengthened for a smooth application of the principle of mutual recognition of judgements and court decisions in criminal matters.
During 2020, trainings on conventions on international legal assistance and corruption and on the effective use of international cooperation and the investigation methods of offences on financing of terrorism and money laundering were provided to 1 146 candidate judges and prosecutors.
In 2020, EU Member States accepted six extradition requests from Turkey, while 50 were rejected and 150 are pending. There were four extradition requests from EU Member States, which are all pending. EU Member States accepted five transfers of convicts to Turkey and Turkey accepted four transfers to EU Member States. Six contact points have been designated by Turkey to coordinate and follow-up judicial cooperation with EUROJUST. In 2020, Turkey was involved in 22 EUROJUST cases on terrorism, cybercrime, migrant smuggling, 53
corruption and fraud, an 83 % increase compared to the previous year (12 cases). However, the personal data protection law is not yet in line with European standards, which prevents the start of negotiations for an agreement with the EU on cooperation with EUROJUST. Cooperative relations should be established also with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which started its operational activities in June 2021.
2.3 ECONOMIC CRITERIA 201820192020Turkey - Key economic figuresGDP per capita (% of EU-27 in PPS)1)64635964Real GDP growth 5.93.00.91.8Economic activity rate of the population aged 15-64 (%), total1)55.658.558.454.9 female34.538.338.735.0 male76.778.578.174.6Unemployment rate of the population aged 15-64 (%), total1)10.011.114.013.4 female12.314.016.715.1 male9.09.712.612.6Employment of the population aged 15-64 (annual growth %)2.72)1.8-2.4-4.3Nominal wages (annual growth %)12.418.326.218.0Consumer price index (annual growth %)8.616.315.212.3Exchange rate against EUR3.055.686.358.10Current account balance (% of GDP)-4.4-2.80.9-5.2Net foreign direct investment, FDI (% of GDP)18.104.22.168.6General government balance (% of GDP)1)-0.5-2.8-3.2-2.8General government debt (% of GDP)22.214.171.1249.83)Notes: 1) Eurostat2) 2015-20173) State governmentSource: national sources2012-17 average
In line with the conclusions of the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993, EU accession requires the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.
Economic governance has become even more central in the accession process in recent years. The Commission's monitoring takes place in two processes: the Economic Reform Programme exercise and the assessment of compliance with the economic criteria for accession. Each enlargement country prepares an annual Economic Reform Programme (ERP), which sets out a medium-term macro-fiscal policy framework and a structural reform agenda aimed at ensuring competitiveness and inclusive growth. The ERPs are the basis for country-specific policy guidance jointly adopted by the EU and the Western Balkans and Turkey at ministerial level each year.
2.3.1. The existence of a functioning market economy
The Turkish economy is well advanced, but made no progress over the reporting period and serious concerns persist over its functioning. 54
The authorities delivered a sizeable and wide-ranging set of measures to boost domestic demand and soften the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the economy rebounded quickly from the crisis, reaching pre-crisis levels already in the third quarter of 2020. Amid a strong policy response to the crisis, institutional and policy coordination weaknesses undermined the credibility and effectiveness of authorities’ actions and imbalances increased. The macroeconomic policy mix relied too heavily on the credit channel, while direct fiscal support measures were rather limited in view of the magnitude of the social and labour market challenges. The strong monetary expansion last year weakened the lira, increased inflation and dollarisation, and triggered portfolio outflows. The closing of the current account deficit in 2019 turned out to be short-lived and external imbalances remain a major vulnerability. Monetary policy tightened in autumn 2020 but the abrupt dismissal of the central bank governor in March 2021, only four months after his appointment, stirred financial market instability and called into question the authorities’ commitment to reducing inflation.
The institutional and regulatory environment weakened further and there are persistent issues with predictability, transparency, and implementation of regulations. Market exit remained costly and slow. The informal sector declined during the crisis but remains large. State intervention in price setting mechanisms persists. The provision of State aid lacks proper implementation rules, enforcement and transparency. Supported by loose monetary policy until the autumn 2020 and favourable regulatory measures, bank lending grew strongly, spurred in particular by state-owned banks. The banking sector remained well capitalised, benefiting from regulatory forbearance and other crisis-mitigation measures. The pandemic had a deeply negative impact on the labour market and poverty. The number of discouraged workers increased significantly and employment levels fell far below their height a few years ago. Female labour market participation and employment remained at particularly low levels. The proportion of young people not in employment, education or training increased.
The Commission’s recommendations from 2020 were not fully implemented and remain valid. In order to improve the functioning of the market economy Turkey should in particular:
rebalance the policy mix towards a tighter monetary policy stance and use part of the available fiscal space for a targeted increase of budget expenditure to soften the crisis impact on the labour market and alleviate poverty;
strengthen the independence of the central bank and improve monetary policy credibility in order to anchor inflation expectations and stabilise the exchange rate;
strengthen the business environment, reduce state interference in price setting, and enhance the transparency and control of State aid;
step up active labour market policies, in particular for young people and women, as well as the social dialogue.
Despite a strong policy response to the crisis, institutional and policy coordination weaknesses undermined the credibility and effectiveness of authorities’ actions. Turkey delivered a sizeable and wide-ranging set of measures to boost domestic demand and soften the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This helped the economy to return quickly to growth, being one of the few in the world to avoid a contraction last year. However, the excessive reliance on the credit channel weakened the lira, depleted foreign exchange reserves, and increased inflation, dollarisation, external imbalances and inequalities. Monetary policy has slowly reversed course in the summer of 2020 and tightened more 55
decisively since November under the watch of a new central bank governor. However, the abrupt dismissal of the governor in March 2021, barely four months into office, has called this policy shift and the turn to a simplified and more transparent policy framework into question. Maintaining a sufficiently tight monetary policy stance over a prolonged period remains a challenging task, as demonstrated by a long history of missed targets and rapid policy reversals. The frequent changes at the helm of the central bank are the starkest manifestation of continued institutional weakness in the country’s Presidential system. Successive changes of the head of the statistical institute (TURKSTAT) and the fast dismantling of newly created advisory boards on price statistics and labour market undermined TURKSTAT’s independence and credibility. The policy guidance jointly agreed at the May 2020 Economic and Financial Dialogue between the EU and the Western Balkans and Turkey was implemented partially, with the rate of implementation improving over previous years.
The Turkish economy was resilient and rebounded quickly from the crisis, but the recovery was uneven across sectors. Following a short-lived contraction in the second quarter due to containment measures, real GDP reached pre-crisis levels already in the third quarter of 2020. Overall, a large policy stimulus and a strong growth momentum shortly before the pandemic helped the economy expand by 1.8 % in 2020. The good performance extended into the first two quarters of 2021 with growth rates of 7.2 % and 21.7 % y/y, respectively. After contracting in 2019, domestic demand returned to growth in 2020. Favourable monetary conditions strongly supported robust private consumption and investment. An outsized build-up of stocks, another important contributor to growth, has started to unwind only by the end of 2020. Import growth remained relatively strong, affected by exceptionally high non-monetary gold imports, but retracted since the fourth quarter of 2020 and turned negative in early 2021. After the initial shock from the pandemic, exports of goods rebounded quickly. They gathered pace along with the firming up of global demand and as price competitiveness gains supported a further expansion of Turkey’s market share in some non-EU markets. The economic recovery, however, remained uneven because of the high exposure to international tourism and transport – two of the most heavily affected sectors in the pandemic, which still feel its impact. Due to tepid pre-crisis growth, resulting from the unwinding of imbalances after the currency turmoil of 2018, Turkey’s real income convergence with the EU reversed – in 2019 its per capita GDP in purchasing power standards was only 59 % of the EU average, down from a high of 68 % in 2015. However, it rebounded to 64 % in 2020 as the Turkish economy performed much better in comparison to a strong decline in the EU. -8 -6 -4 -202468 10 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Graph 1: Turkey - Real GDP growth and contributions Priv. cons. Gov. cons. GFCF Stocks Net exports real GDP growth Source: Macrobond, own calculations % y-o-y
The closing of the current account deficit in 2019 turned out to be short-lived and external imbalances remain a major vulnerability. With domestic demand returning to growth, higher import of non-monetary gold due to increased financial instability, and a crisis-induced weakening in exports, the current account moved back to a deficit of 5.2 % of GDP in 2020. The deficit declined somewhat in the beginning of 2021, driven by the recovery in exports of goods, imports -6 -303 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Graph 2: Turkey - Current account selected components and FDI Workers' Remittances balance Goods and services trade balance Current account balance Net FDI % of GDP Source: IMF and Central Bank of Turkey56
suppression, and lower gold imports. However, it remained relatively high, reflecting the strength of domestic demand, still subdued service exports, and negative terms of trade due to global commodity price increases. The strong monetary expansion in 2020 not only weakened the lira but also triggered financial market instability and portfolio outflows. Official foreign exchange reserves have been the main source of financing of these outflows and of the widening current account deficit. As a result, central bank reserves currency composition worsened and reserves fell by more than 20 %, to their lowest level in a decade, while its net foreign assets (excluding borrowed funds) turned negative. Net foreign direct investment has further declined in recent years and remained marginal, despite growing price competitiveness.
Turkey remains highly exposed to geopolitical risks and changes in global financing conditions. Geopolitical tensions, rising economic imbalances and overall policy uncertainty affected negatively the country risk premium and investor confidence in Turkey. With the exception of the short period between November 2020 and March 2021, marked by clear steps towards monetary policy normalisation, the five-year credit default swaps remained elevated above 350 basis points. The depreciation of the lira drove the external debt ratio further up to 62.7 % of GDP at the end of 2020. Turkey’s external position, thus, is very vulnerable amidst an uncertain geopolitical environment and in view of a possible tightening of global financing conditions. The continued ability in particular of the banking sector to roll over its short-term external debt and the improvement in the short-term positive net foreign exchange position of the non-financial sector are key factors attenuating this vulnerability.
Inflation increased and price pressures have become entrenched primarily due to the lack of monetary policy credibility. The weakness of the lira, which lost 24 % against the U.S. dollar in 2020 and another 14 % by mid-June 2021, continued to be a major inflationary factor. In addition, food prices increased markedly by the end of 2020 and have remained elevated since then. Persistently high food price inflation not only hurts disproportionately the poor, but also points to deep-rooted structural problems in the agricultural sector, like long supply chains and underdeveloped logistics and storage. Thus, despite lower energy prices in 2020, inflation stayed in the double-digits, ending 2020 at 14.6 %. As energy and other commodity prices increased since the beginning of 2021, inflation picked up further to 19.25 % y/y in August. Producer prices also continued their steep rise, from 5.5 % y/y last May to 45.5 % in August 2021, pointing to persistent inflationary pressures. The central bank was slow to react to rising inflation last year and started to tighten its policy only in August 2020. It tightened more decisively under a new central bank governor who, between November and March, raised the key policy rate by 875 basis points to 19 %. However, his abrupt dismissal triggered financial market instability and called into question the authorities’ commitment to reducing inflation. The policy rate has remained unchanged since March, despite increasing inflation and inflationary expectations. The frequent dismissals of central bank governors and recurrent pressure by the authorities on monetary policy decision-makers to lower interest rates severely undermine the bank’s independence and its credibility and come at the cost of higher country risk premiums, and exchange rate and financial market instability. 010203040-6-4-202201520162017201820192020Graph 3: Turkey -Fiscal developmentsPrimary balance (lhs)Interest (lhs)GG balance (lhs)Public Debt (rhs)Source: Nationalsources% ofGDP
Fiscal policy tightened at the height of the crisis, despite numerous crisis-related measures. The fiscal support package to cushion the crisis impact amounted to slightly more than 2 % of GDP, while most of the support (around 10 % of GDP) was off budget in the form 57
of new or deferred loans backed by public guarantees. At central government level, the budget deficit was 3.4 % of GDP in 2020 – significantly below the revised target of 4.9 % of GDP. The general government deficit declined from 3.2 % of GDP in 2019 to 2.8 % of GDP in 2020, notwithstanding a sharp increase in interest payments and lower revenue from the central bank. The growing domestic demand and targeted tax increases on certain goods, such as motor vehicles, supported revenue. There was a rather modest increase in social spending and transfers to households and limited tax reductions and payment deferrals. However, the good revenue performance and cuts in government consumption and investment expenditure outweighed the impact of these measures on the deficit and allowed the government to reduce the budget deficit and achieve a better than planned result in 2020. While signalling a return to strict spending discipline, which had been a major economic policy asset until 2017, fiscal policy tightened in the midst of the crisis, restraining its support to the economy. The recently revised 2021 deficit took into account the better than planned revenue performance in 2020 (by 2.5 % of GDP) and cut the central government deficit target by 0.7 percentage points to an estimated 3.5 % of GDP. Although the budget deficit outperformed targets by a wide margin, government debt continued rising. It went up by close to 7 percentage points to 39.8 % of GDP in 2020 and continued growing in early 2021 mainly because of the depreciation of the lira. In addition, fiscal risks related to various contingent liabilities increased as well.
The macroeconomic policy mix relied too heavily on the credit channel and a loose monetary policy. Monetary policy overreacted to the crisis and the excessive credit creation spilled over to weaken the lira, worsen financial market volatility, and increase inflation. Direct fiscal support measures, on the other hand, were rather limited in view of the magnitude of the social and labour market challenges. Hence, a rebalancing of the policy mix towards a tighter monetary policy stance and using part of the available fiscal space for a targeted increase of budget expenditure would be needed. Institutional weaknesses, low policy credibility and geopolitical risks seriously undermine the effectiveness of the policy mix.
Functioning of product markets
Turkey’s institutional and regulatory environment weakened, while government intentions to improve the business climate are at an early stage. Starting a business is still relatively cumbersome, while market exit has also remained costly and time-consuming. Nevertheless, the pandemic intensified both market entry and exits. The number of newly established businesses increased by 20.5 % in 2020 as compared to 2019. In parallel, the number of liquidated companies increased by 9.9 % and the number of closed ones by 16.4 % during the same timeframe. There has been further backsliding in the areas of contract enforcement and insolvency resolution. Even though alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have been promoted, commercial judicial processes are slow and a large backlog of commercial court cases remains. The implementation of the legislation to improve the insolvency system is behind schedule and the process remains inefficient. In order to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, all pending and new enforcement and bankruptcy procedures were put on hold until 15 June 2020 and concordat proceedings were suspended as well. Turkey lacks a systematic consultation mechanism with business organisations and social partners during the preparation of new legislation.
There has been serious backsliding in recent years with regard to the judicial system. Regulatory enforcement and the constraints on government power worsened the most, while scores on fundamental rights and open government declined from already low levels. The Government adopted a Human Rights Action Plan and an Economic Reform Package in 58
March 2021, envisaging a number of actions, including the development of alternative dispute resolution methods, strengthening specialised courts and reviewing public procurement legislation. Turkey further improved its performance in the area of property rights. However, intellectual property right enforcement remains very weak (see Chapter 7). The number of companies managed under the trusteeship of the Savings Deposits Insurance Fund is still high. As of the end of 2020, the management of 796 companies based in 38 provinces across Turkey with a total asset value of TRY 70.3 billion (EUR 7.8 billion) and with a total of 40 061 employees, remained under the trusteeship of the Fund. Neither a schedule for resolving the release of all companies from trusteeship, nor appropriate, effective and timely means of legal redress are in place.
The informal sector remained structurally high, representing a considerable share of economic activity, well above the OECD average. The share of unregistered employment fell below 30 % in 2020, mainly due to the decline in informal jobs in sectors seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as tourism and construction. The authorities continued to implement the Action Plan and Strategy for the fight against the informal economy (2019-2021). The results of the actions taken so far are, however, difficult to assess. Among others, the Revenue Administration aims to increase the level of voluntary compliance, strengthen audit capacity, review and regulate the legislation, enhance inter-agency data sharing and increase awareness, but no concrete performance indicators against which to measure progress had been set.
State influence on product markets
The state continues intervening in the price-setting mechanism in key sectors. More than a quarter of the consumer basket is composed of goods whose prices are set or heavily influenced by public authorities (price limits, tax rate adjustments). Meanwhile, Turkish regulators have been carrying out intensive price audits across all provinces to investigate unfair pricing and stockpiling practices. In 2020, 495 firms have been found guilty of charging exorbitant prices, mostly on food, protective masks, sanitizers and other basic goods. The total amount of the administrative fines imposed by the Unfair Price Evaluation Board reached TRY 15.5 million. Within the scope of COVID-19 pandemic measures, Turkey reduced the VAT for a comprehensive list of goods and services from 18 % to 8 % and from 8 % to 1 % for others until the end of July 2021. VAT for private education services (for 2020-2021 academic years) was also lowered from 8 % to 1 %. The delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines will also be subject to a reduced VAT rate until 31 December 2021.
State aid transparency and control remained weak. Legislation to implement the State aid law, originally scheduled to be passed a decade ago, has still not been adopted. Turkey has not formally set up a comprehensive State aid inventory or adopted an action plan to align all State aid schemes with the EU acquis. Additionally, Turkey has abolished the administrative structure responsible for implementing State aid legislation, while transferring its mandate to the Economic Policies Council. The Directorate-General for Economic Programs and Research, established in 2019 under the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, was assigned the role of coordinating State aid. The current structure of State aid control is considered neither independent nor operational (see Chapter 8). The project-based support reached 34 projects with an investment amount of TRY 115.2 billion as of June 2021. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) benefit from numerous support measures and initiatives, for which there is a lack of systematic monitoring, and evaluations are at an early stage.
Privatisation and restructuring
The pace of privatisation has lost momentum, partly due to the crisis, while the sovereign wealth fund expanded its hold in key sectors of the economy. Privatisation 59
receipts decreased sharply over the last three years, from USD 1.4 billion in 2018 to USD 22 million in 2020. The privatisation of state-owned sugar factories has been ongoing in the reporting period. For 2021, the Privatisation Administration has targeted the privatisation of electricity generation plants, ports, inspection services for legal metrology and real assets. Government assets owned by the Turkey Wealth Fund (TWF) appear to be ring fenced from privatisation. The TWF holds shares in major companies in the financial, telecommunications, petrochemicals, real estate, mining, agriculture and transport sectors. In 2020, it increased further its presence in the telecommunications and financial sectors. It took over public insurance and individual pension companies with the aim of consolidating them and increasing its share in the non-banking financial industry in Turkey. While remaining the largest shareholder in Borsa Istanbul, it sold 10 % of its shares to the Qatar Investment Authority in November 2020. The TWF made some progress towards meeting the Santiago principles on transparency and accountability by publishing its activity reports and consolidated financial statements for the years 2018 and 2019, but there is still room for improving transparency. According to its consolidated financial statements, at the end of 2019, its total assets amounted to TRY 1.5 trillion (34 % of GDP). The TWF continues benefiting from certain exemptions from the rules, granted following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to support companies of strategic importance in distress. These exemptions are mostly related to (publicly held) corporations’ transactions, merger and acquisition, unlawful exercise of control, and shareholders’ rights.
Functioning of the financial market
The financial sector went through a rapid expansion, but faces adjustment needs in view of the upcoming lifting of forbearance measures. Commercial banks, state-owned banks in particular, were the main vehicle of the policy response to the crisis. Despite rapid credit growth, the banking sector remained broadly stable, partly thanks to the relief provided by forbearance measures. The capital adequacy ratio of the banking sector declined somewhat in early 2021, but at 17.5 % in July it was still above the regulatory minimum and historic averages. Pandemic-related incentives, which were extended until September 2021, continued to affect positively bank capital positions. Regulatory measures (extension of the period for delinquent loans to be classified non-performing to 180 days and postponement of loan instalments) and the rapid growth in lending had a strong impact on the non-performing loan (NPL) ratio, which even declined from 5.3 % in the beginning of 2020 to 3.7 % in July 2021. Stage 2 loans (loans for which the risk of non-payment has increased significantly) have also remained broadly stable at around 11 % over this period, although loan restructuring continued to cloud proper assessment. Bank profitability declined somewhat from an already low level because of increased funding and provisioning costs and lower income from fees. Profitability continued to be lower in state-owned banks, largely because of the authorities’ heavy reliance on these banks to boost lending. The dollarisation of the system increased from an already high level as the private sector’s desire to hedge against exchange rate volatility triggered a further expansion in foreign exchange and gold deposits, with their share rising from around half of all deposits in mid-2020 to 56 % in June 2021. Despite an increased country risk premium spilling over to their creditworthiness, commercial banks managed to maintain the rollover ratio of their external loans consistently above 90 % and continued to manage their excess foreign exchange liquidity through the swap markets.
Access to finance
Supported by loose monetary policy and strong regulatory measures, bank lending grew strongly. The authorities took wide-ranging measures to stimulate credit and provide liquidity 60
support to the economy. Consequently, loan growth accelerated rapidly in 2020. Although it slowed down as monetary policy changed course and regulatory changes expired in the autumn of 2020, total credit increased significantly since the beginning of 2020 to 66 % of GDP in June 2021. State-owned banks have led the lending spree and expanded their market share. Credit increased strongly both in the corporate and retail segment last year, spurred also by the support offered by the Credit Guarantee Fund, which doubled its allowable loan limits and extended its mandate beyond SMEs to households. While decelerating markedly in early 2021, the growth of household loans still remained robust until mid-2021. Total bank assets increased from 104 % of GDP in 2019 to 121 % in 2020, while the share of foreign-owned banks in total assets declined slightly from 26.5 % to 25.1 %. The interest rate spread between USD commercial loans and deposits has declined since the beginning of 2020 and was around its long-term average in the first half of 2021. The spread in lira increased also approached its average but from a low level.
Functioning of the labour market
The pandemic had a major negative impact on employment and poverty. The labour market had not yet fully recovered from the 2018 recession, when the pandemic hit. Repeated lockdowns and reduced economic activity, in particular in a number of labour-intensive sectors, led to a sharp decline in employment, most notably in construction and services. Although the government introduced a job retention scheme, financed by the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and a ban on lay-offs, which benefitted millions of people, employment (15 years and above) fell by close to 3 million or 10 % y/y in April 2020. It started to recover in the summer and increased further by June 2021, with a notable rebound of industrial employment. However, employment levels and the employment rate remained below their height a few years ago. The pandemic increased the number of discouraged workers and the labour force participation rate fell to a low of 46.2 % in April 2020, before partially recovering to 51.2 % in the second quarter of 2021. Male and youth employment bore the brunt of the crisis, while female labour market participation and employment declined as well from already particularly low levels. The rate of youth not in employment, education or training increased further. Undeclared work declined as the pandemic affected relatively more sectors with higher informality. The unemployment rate was broadly stable at around 13 % on average in 2020 but declined by mid-2021. The slack on the labour market, however, was evident by the rise in the composite indicator of labour underutilisation, which takes into account time-related underemployment and potential labour force. While traditionally under 20 %, it went up to close to 30 % of the labour force in the spring of 2020 and was still elevated in the second quarter of 2021. The job-retention measures that had shielded the labour market in the crisis were lifted in June. Regional labour market disparities are significant, with the unemployment rate ranging from 8.0 % to 33.5 % in 2020. After nearly two decades of continuous decline, poverty increased sharply in recent years because of the deteriorating labour market situation. The proportion of people with per capita consumption of below $5.5 a day (2011 PPP) went up from 8.5 % in 2018 to an estimated 12.2 % in 2020. Income inequality worsened as well with the Gini coefficient rising to 0.41 in 2020 – its highest level in a decade. 40455055606501020302014201520162017201820192020Graph 4: Turkey -Labour market trends(15-64 age group)Unemployment rate (lhs)Participation rate (rhs)Employment rate (rhs)Source: Eurostat61
2.3.2. The capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union Turkey has made limited progress and has a good level of preparation in achieving the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Despite some progress made in improving access to education, the mismatch between the education system and labour market needs persists. Expenditure on research and development continued increasing at a slow pace, but remained well below the government’s target. Supported by favourable financing conditions and concessional lending, investment activity rebounded in 2020. Progress was made with regard to the diversification of energy supplies and the development of the renewable energy sector. The extension of local content requirement practices continued to raise concerns. The relative share of the EU in Turkey’s foreign trade slightly increased, despite extensive deviations by Turkey from its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union.
The Commission’s recommendations from 2020 were not fully implemented and remain valid. In order to improve competitiveness and support long-term growth, Turkey should in particular:
continue increasing enrolment in education, improve vocational education and training and better adapt education and training to labour market needs;
take steps to open the gas market to competition;
remove all protectionist measures not in line with the EU-Turkey Customs Union.