On 6 August 2020, Greek Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Emmanouil Fragkos of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, filed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“Turkish domestic and foreign policy is full of examples that leave no room for doubt regarding its increasingly rapid slide into extremism and fundamentalism. Having long ago abandoned the notion of a secular State, it is now shifting into a different league, moving from the level of Pakistan to that of Iran.
The conversion of Hagia Sofia into a mosque was effectively a call to arms calculated to strike a chord with Islamic fundamentalists. The influx of extremists into Istanbul chanting Islamic slogans, with the Afghan Taliban raising their banner is reminiscent of the actions of those blowing up places of worship used by other religions in Afghanistan and the mass slaughter of non-Muslims by Islamic State.
Attempts to exploit religion and invoke the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ in a bid to incite lasting religious hatred at every level between ‘Muslims and infidels’ are causing justifiable concern.
- Has the Commission uncovered any evidence of attempts by President Erdogan to manipulate Muslims within the EU for political ends? It is preparing to counter such efforts to the same extent as it is seeking to ward off external cyber-attacks?
- Should it discover that the Turkish Government is behind efforts to foment interracial or inter-religious hatred, is the Commission able to bring effective (economic) pressure to bear to persuade it not to use religion as a domestic and foreign policy instrument or as a means of trumpeting its cultural values?
- Is it monitoring the situation and can it confirm that the Turkish Government is basically seeking to bring the media and society as a whole into line with a centrally imposed line of conduct?”
On 8 January 2021, High Representative and Vice-President Borrell, formally responded on behalf of the European Commission reporting:
“Since the adoption of the action plan against Disinformation in 2018, the European External Action Service (EEAS) has improved the capabilities of Union institutions to detect, analyse and expose disinformation. Measures have also been implemented to improve the EU’s response to this challenge, such as the establishment of the Rapid Alert System on Disinformation.
In all the Actions that the EU takes against disinformation, it does so in full respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
In response to such challenges, the EU needs to explain its social model and the place of the religion in it. However, international cooperation is needed to succeed. Turkey is, as founding member of the Alliance of Civilisations, committed to the promotion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and to fostering tolerance, respect for diversity and co-existence, so also Turkey should be our partner in this endeavour.
In its 2020 Report on Turkey, the Commission expressed serious concerns about the continued backsliding in the area of fundamental rights in Turkey. Recurrent violations of the freedom of expression and intimidation of the media continued as in previous years, leading to censorship and self-censorship among media professionals.
The Commission is closely monitoring the situation of journalists and other critical voices, as well as the overall situation of the freedom of expression and religion in Turkey. The Commission will keep monitoring the situation and addressing these concerns in its bilateral contacts with Turkish authorities and in the context of the Istanbul Process, which provides an important international policy framework for cooperation in countering religious intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief.”
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