EU Minister Çavuşoglu says Fule’s comments on Turkey ‘balanced’

European Union Affairs Minister Mevlut Çavuşoglu has said that EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule’s statement expressing doubts about Turkey’s commitment to European values was a “balanced” statement that includes Turkey’s achievements on the path to EU membership, as well as setbacks.

Speaking to members of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association (DMD) on Monday, Çavuşoglu stressed that Turkey is not changing its direction and is determined to continue down the EU membership path with an increased focus on a reform agenda.

“As commissioner for enlargement, I must admit that events over the past three months have cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to European values and standards,” Fule had said at a EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting at the European Parliament (EP) last week.

“Fule expressed both his disappointments and positive things about Turkey. A balanced statement. We also told him about Turkey’s disappointments,” said Çavuşoglu, adding that the real issue with the EU is the limitations on social media in Turkey. He said there needs to be a balance between protecting people’s privacy rights and freedom of expression. When asked about the opening of chapters 23 and 24 of the negotiations with the EU, Çavuşoglu said that he expects the chapters to be opened in 2014. Çavuşoglu stated that the reason for not opening the chapters is not about the criticism of Turkey by the EU but due to blocks from Greek Cyprus and France.

Çavuşoglu also dismissed a German newspaper story claiming that the EU has given Turkey only three months to get its act together, otherwise the EU will halt membership negotiations. “This is completely wrong. No one has the right to treat Turkey this way,” said Çavuşoglu.

The EU, which Turkey aspires to join, has expressed criticism over a series of government measures in the wake of a corruption investigation that broke out with a wave of detentions on Dec. 17, 2013. The dozens of people detained, all of whom were subsequently released, included sons of former ministers and businessmen and officials close to the government. The government described the probe as a “coup attempt” which it blamed on the Hizmet movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, and its foreign collaborators. It also reassigned thousands of police officers as well as dozens of judges and prosecutors in what was seen to be an attempt to stifle the investigation. Fule has lamented the developments in Turkey’s accession process over the past months, calling them “a cause for concern and disappointment.”

Çavuşoglu criticized the “parallel structure,” a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement, as well as opposition parties for trying to spoil Turkey’s image abroad. “It is wrong to complain about Turkey to the outside world and spoil it’s image, even if Turkey has shortcomings or makes mistakes,” said Çavuşoglu.

One journalist said that certain organizations have been lobbying against the closure case of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2008, but now the AK Party is displeased with the same organizations for pointing out the mistakes in Turkey with regards to legal re-structuring and social media limitations. Çavuşoglu said he does not see any link between the two, adding that the closure case against the AK Party was wrong and political, while complaining about Turkey abroad or leaking top Turkish officials’ talks are about distorting the country’s image and treachery.

Çavuşoglu also accused the media of distorting his remarks last week regarding a senior member of the European Parliament (EP), Andrew Duff. Duff confronted Çavuşoglu during a meeting of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee on Thursday over his remarks suggesting that the Liberal politician had some sort of arrangement with the Hizmet movement that “makes” him issue critical statements about the Turkish government and suggest that Turkey’s EU accession negotiations may be suspended.

Çavuşoglu said he was only talking about certain media organizations arranging an interview with one parliamentarian whose remarks not supported by other European parliamentarians or the EU.

When asked what he thinks about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief economic advisor Yigit Bulut claiming that Turkey no longer needs Europe, Çavuşoglu said he did not hear about the remarks but that it does not reflect Turkey’s position. “Turkey needs the EU and the EU needs Turkey. Whoever said that Turkey no longer needs Europe, there is no way that I can agree with this argument,” said Çavuşoglu.

Answering a question about whether extra measures have been taken to protect the privacy of government members’ talks following leaked recordings of top officials, Çavuşoglu said they have not taken any measures because they have nothing to hide. “No one feels safe in such an environment, including the prime minister. And he says so,” he added.

Following a question about the corruption allegations involving some former AK Party ministers and sons, Çavuşoglu said the courts will have the final say on that and that personally, he finds the allegations flimsy.

Demonstrating an optimistic stance, Çavuşoglu said that Turkey expects a solution to the Cyprus issue in 2014 after the resumption of negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots early this year in the long-divided island.

Çavuşoglu also mentioned the European Commission’s investigation into claims of tender-rigging and illegal recruitment at the EU Ministry’s National Agency (Ulusal Ajans) while former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagış — who was implicated in the corruption scandal that became public on Dec. 17, 2013 — was in office. He said that the Commission had analyzed the preliminary results of the audit and that based on the findings, it does not envision a suspension of the Erasmus program in Turkey.

Speaking about the Constitutional Court’s decisions recently, Mevlut Çavuşoglu said that everyone has to respect the court’s decisions, whether they like it or not.