Turkey says ready to discuss judicial row with EU

Turkey's foreign minister said the country was ready to discuss all issues with the European Union at high-profile talks this week

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Turkey's foreign minister said Sunday the country was ready to discuss all issues with the European Union at high-profile talks this week, including a row over judicial independence that has escalated the crisis engulfing the government.

The controversy over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bid to increase his control over Turkey's top judicial oversight body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), has dealt a new blow to the country's long-held goal of EU membership just as Erdogan prepares for a crunch day of talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the judiciary issue and all others were on the table in the EU talks, but defended the embattled Erdogan government's response to the corruption scandal that sparked the current political crisis.

“We are ready to discuss everything, including the HSYK,” said Davutoglu, who is due to accompany Erdogan on his trip.

“If there is anything that stands contradictory to EU standards, we will listen to this.”

Erdogan's government has taken a series of retaliatory measures including a mass purge of police and prosecutors in the wake of a December anti-corruption probe that has ensnared some of the prime minister's key allies.

The embattled leader has also sought to expand his control over the HSYK, drawing criticism from European leaders.

Erdogan accuses supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Muslim cleric who lives in the United States, of waging a “coup plot” in the run-up to elections this year.

Erdogan's Brussels trip will be his first visit since Turkey resumed EU membership talks in November after a three-year freeze, but EU officials warn the crisis has spoilt the “new momentum” in relations between the predominantly Muslim country and the 28-member bloc.

Brussels has urged the government to address the corruption allegations in a “transparent” and “impartial” manner, and the Council of Europe has warned that Turkish moves to “politicise” the judiciary would weaken trust in the state and jeopardise democracy.

“Judicial independence is a must,” Davutoglu told reporters in the southern Turkish province of Adana.

“But the executive has the freedom to develop its own policies,” the foreign minister said.

“We are ready to listen to any criticism or any view raised in the European Union as long as those criticisms and views are based upon EU standards and norms.”

He warned Brussels not to take a “discriminatory attitude” toward Turkey, suggesting the proposed changes to the HSYK were comparable to existing laws in various EU countries.

“If there is anything that is against the EU standards, we will listen to this, but we will ask one by one how the situation is in Europe, in Spain, in France,” he said.

He urged the EU to immediately open Chapters 23 and 24 in membership negotiations -- policy areas governing the rule of law and the judiciary.

“Let's negotiate them as soon as possible,” he said. “We will never back down on democratic standards.

“We will easily overcome this crisis... and Turkish-EU relations will proceed on a more solid ground.”

Turkey's efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but stalled over several stumbling blocks, including a territorial dispute with member state Cyprus and opposition from heavyweights France and Germany.

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