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PACE President, ending visit: Turkey is more essential than ever

“Turkey’s role in Europe is more than ever central and essential,” said Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), speaking at the end of an official visit to Ankara, Gazientep and Istanbul.

“Turkey has always been a bridge between Europe and Asia, and is now facing enormous challenges in view of its geographical position. Two million refugees from Syria and Iraq have fled across this bridge, been welcomed in Turkey and provided with asylum. I would like to praise the Turkish authorities not only for their reception of these refugees – which I witnessed with my own eyes at the Elbeyli Camp in Kilis – but also for the way in which they are developing a longer-term strategy to integrate them in Turkey,” she said.

“Turkey has invested 5.5 billion dollars to provide for these refugees, while the international community has, by contrast, donated a meagre 250 million dollars. The international community, and Europe in particular, must now step up and help Turkey and the refugees in what has now become a hugely complicated and protracted refugee situation, with much at stake for both Europe and the people affected. When I met with Syrian refugees on the border, I had to admire their courage and their efforts to come to terms with their desperate situation,” the President added.

“In my high-level meetings I expressed my horror at the recent terrorist attack which led to the killing of prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz in Istanbul. ‘The best way to tackle terrorism is to guarantee human rights’. These are not my words, but those of the new President of the Constitutional Court, whom I met and with whom I agree. I respect greatly this institution, which has been bold in both protecting the state and also the rights of individuals with its landmark judgments. It is an example for the other democratic institutions in Turkey of how the checks and balances in a democracy have to work,” said Ms Brasseur.

“Turkey has come a long way in recent decades economically, but also in terms of how it protects and guarantees human rights. Some issues remain, however, which I raised with the President, the Prime Minister and other interlocutors. The most sensitive of these was the question of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as the proportionality of some recent restrictive decisions, including in relation to social media. I did however make it clear that freedom of expression cannot be unlimited, and that social media bring new challenges which we have yet to find answers for,” she said.

“I also had the opportunity of putting forward, with the Speaker of Parliament, a proposal for a body in Parliament to assess the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and highlighted to different partners the role that the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission could play in providing advice on controversial legislation and issues, such as recent security measures, the role of the majority and the opposition, and also the 10 per cent threshold for parties in elections, the latter being an issue long criticised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.”

The President concluded: “The last matter I would like to comment on is the Kurdish issue. In my meeting with President Erdoğan, I welcomed the steps he had taken to find solutions to the long-running and bitter Kurdish conflict and encouraged him, and all sides, to take further mesures to solve remaining tensions and problems.”

In the course of her visit, Ms Brasseur met the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of EU Integration and other government and local officials. She also met with the Speaker of Parliament, members of the PACE delegation, civil society representatives, UNHCR officials, religious leaders and the press, and gave a lecture at Bilkent University.

Ms Brasseur thanked the Turkish authorities, the Parliament and the local authorities in Gazientep for their hospitality, openness and frankness during her visit.