BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday severely criticized Turkey for a series of flaws in its respect for human rights and democratic standards at a time when the bloc is looking to Ankara to help deal with the migrant crisis.
In an annual report to prepare for possible Turkish membership, the EU said that on political issues "the pace of reforms slowed down," adding that some key legislation "ran against European standards."
The full report, long delayed until after the Turkish elections on Nov. 1, also said that "major shortcomings remain" when it comes to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In an initial assessment for the European Parliament, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told legislators that "over the past year, significant shortcomings affected the independence of the judiciary as well as freedom of assembly and freedom expression."
He specifically cited "increased pressure and intimidation of journalists and media outlets" on top of the muzzling of internet reporting.
The Turkish government said in a statement that "some of the comments in the report do not duly reflect Turkey's reforms" and added that some were "unfair and excessive."
After a decade when the EU had the upper hand in membership talks, the bloc now needs Turkey to deal with the migrant crisis since is it a key nation on the way between Syria and the European heartland where migrants have sought shelter.
The EU is already in talks with Ankara on an action plan to help ease the Syrian refugee crisis, with the EU holding out a package that would involve 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in aid. The EU report said that Turkey had already spent over 6.7 billion euros ($7.2 billion) to manage the hosting of some 2 million refugees from Syria.
If Turkey is better able to keep the migrants from crossing into Greece and into the EU's heartland, the pressure on EU nations would be relieved. Yet, such considerations did not stop the EU from criticizing Ankara.
"The substance of this report proves how serious this policy is, how independent it is," Hahn said.
Instead of coming closer to EU standards on democratic principles, the report said, there is "significant backsliding in the areas of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly."
It said corruption in Turkey remains widespread and its fight against it "inadequate."
For all these reasons, there is still a strong belief the EU shouldn't be too accommodating toward Ankara, migrant crisis or not.
"This report highlights how wrong it would be for the EU to try and should outsource its refugee crisis to Turkey," said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE liberal group in the European Parliament.
"The EU will only be able to maintain pressure on Turkey, with regards to democratic reforms and its policy on Syria, if we are able to fully control migration and external EU borders ourselves," Verhofstadt said.
Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert