Monday

21st May 2018

Turkey and the EU one month after the coup

  • Almost 300 Turks lost their lives in fighting with coup plotters on 15 July. (Photo: Reuters)

A month after the failed coup in Turkey, life in Istanbul is somewhere between back to normal and things will never be the same again.

Hanging down from buildings, fluttering through rolled-down car windows, wrapped around people, Turkish flags paint the town red. The Bosphorus bridge connecting Asia and Europe has been renamed 15 July Martyrs in honour of those who died in fighting linked with last month's attempted coup.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Even the air is different - massive loudspeakers fill it with music that could be heard kilometres away. The playlist was only two songs long, switching between Turkiyem, a 1970s Turk pop tune, and Dombra, a tribute to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

State-run news outlet Anadolu Agency estimated that 25 million people attended pro-democracy rallies that only ended three weeks after the coup.

But while those joining the rallies were claiming to have saved democracy, EU leaders were lamenting an authoritarian crackdown.

While many Turks rejoiced at the rooting out of supposed infiltrators, the West lamented the purge of judges, journalists and teachers.

More than 23,000 people have been detained or arrested and 82,000 dismissed or suspended, accused of conspiring with an elderly cleric - Fethullah Gulen - who allegedly pulled the strings from his exile in the US.

”It does sound like a bad novel,” Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, told EUobserver in Brussels.

"But the lists were there," he added. "We have been cleaning the state of Gulen-linked officials since 2013. But we never expected anything this vicious."

Gulen has condemned the coup and protests his innocence. Last week, he requested an international investigation to clear him from the accusations.

United against Gulen

But after a month of arrests and confessions, the lion’s share of Turks appear to hold him accountable. Erdogan’s approval ratings have soared by more than 20 points to almost 70 percent. The four parliamentary parties, including Erdogan’s arch-rivals CHP and HDP, also think Gulen pulled the strings of the botched putsch.

Three parties - Erdogan’s conservative AKP, social democratic CHP, and nationalist MHP (but not leftist HDP) - made history on Sunday (7 August) when they appeared side by side at a “democracy and martyrs” demonstration.

”It was the first time in our history that everyone stood together,” said Selim Yenel. “Everything changed with the coup. It’s a new Turkey.”

But this new Turkey, however, has strained relations with the EU, with the Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu saying that the EU "failed the test" after the coup and accused the bloc of falling for anti-Turkey and anti-Erdogan sentiments.

A war of words has played out in the media over Turkey's post-coup purge, which includes a threat to reintroduce the death penalty.

Another source of tension is a visa liberalisation plan that would grant Turkish citizens short-term travel freedoms to the EU. With Turkey having so far failed to meet the agreed conditions, including overhauling its anti-terrorism legislation, the visa move may not happen. As a result, the migration deal concluded in March now hangs by a thread.

Most recently, Turkey was also caught up in a diplomatic row with Austria and Sweden that accused the country of wanting to allow sex with children.

Turkey's constitutional court last month scrapped an article in the penal code that defined all sexual acts against children as abuse. Rather, it said, cases should be reviewed individually so as to better balance crime and sanctions.

Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday (15 August) that the Austrian and Swedish criticisms were a reflection of the "racism, anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish [trend] in Europe."

Austria, currently Turkey's fiercest critic in the EU, has also said that Turkey's accession talks should be brought to a halt. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said he would use his seat in the foreign ministers council to veto the opening of new negotiation chapters with Turkey.

In response, Cavusoglu called Austria the "capital of radical racism". European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also rebuked Kurz, saying the will of the member states was to go on with the talks.

Turkish politicians, meanwhile, have traded barbs with the EU over its commitment to a visa liberalisation plan, which was due to enter into force in June but was postponed until October.

The commission seems split on the matter. EU commissioner for digital economy Guenther Oettinger had said the possibility of giving Turks visa-free travel this year had fallen after the post-coup crackdown. But EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters a few days later the intention was to push on with the plan after summer recess.

Selim Yenel, the Turkish ambassador, said it was unfortunate that EU-Turkish relations had suffered, but said they could be saved.

”We understand that holidays are sacred,” said the ambassador, ”but we hope that EU leaders will come and visit Turkey in September, and see the situation first-hand”.

The failure of senior EU officials to do so - while sending out critical noises - has drawn the ire of Turkish counterparts.

A group of Turkish MPs even visited Brussels by ways of establishing contact, but found the EU capital deserted.

Yenel was positive that understanding would grow once ministers and commissioners met.

Turkey was ready to modify its anti-terror law, as the EU requested, if that didn’t hurt the fight against terrorism and if Turkish citizens were guaranteed visa-free travel in Europe, he said.

And he added that threats of re-introducing the death penalty were only politicians scoring points.

”It would never pass through parliament,” he insisted. ”That would mean we had broken our commitment to Europe.”

Mending relations

Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), painted a less rosy picture of the future but agreed the country had been thrust into a watershed moment by the coup attempt.

”The Gulenists occupied the core of the state. We need to start from scratch rebuilding our institutions,” she said.

She agreed there was a risk that innocent people would be caught in the net cast after Gulen loyalists.

”People are rightly concerned that the crackdown is too vast. Many mistakes are taking place,” she said.

”But I also think they don’t have any other option that to carry on with the investigation. The size of the threat is also real.”

The EU could - in theory - nudge Turkey in a democratic direction.

”But the EU has in the past been very supportive of Gulenists. Everyone knows this in Turkey, and that taints public support for the EU,” she said.

And the bloc’s understanding of the situation in Turkey was clouded by anti-Erdogan feeling.

“Let’s be honest, Erdogan had a terrible reputation in the West already before the coup,” Aydintasbas said. ”And this hasn’t helped.”

Bahadir Kaleagasi, the EU representative Turkey's leading business organisation Tusiad, agreed that EU wariness might be influenced by anti-Erdogan feelings.

”But that’s the opposite of the European spirit, to Jean Monnet’s union of nations,” Kaleagasi argued.

“If the EU really wants to act for the sake of democracy, the best thing it can do is to engage itself - rather than to send criticism from abroad.”

He said between 1995 and 2005, the possibility of EU membership talks had helped Turkey to evolve towards democracy.

“Turkey is the most important external relations success in EU history,” he said.

But the process came to a halt shortly after EU membership negotiations formally opened in 2005. Just one of 35 chapters has so far been concluded.

The EU left Turkey out in the cold for years - until the bloc decided to rely on Turkey to stem the arrival of refugees to the EU, he said.

“EU membership drove Turkey towards a democracy. Not seeing that perspective confirmed by the EU made the country lose its compass,” Kaleagasi said.

Analysis

How the EU helped erode Turkish democracy

By neglecting Turkey for years and by failing to find its own solution on refugees the EU lost leverage on Turkey and finds itself played "like a yoyo" by its hardman leader.

Death penalty not on Turkey's agenda, says MP

A Turkish MP plays down the possibility of capital punishment being reintroduced, despite hints by president Erdogan that he would push for it following last month's failed coup.

EU won't budge on Turkey visa demands

Turkey must meet five more benchmarks before the EU will lift any visa restrictions. The demands have received short shrift from Ankara amid its post-coup crackdown.

Gulen faithful at work in EU capital

Persecuted in Turkey as the alleged authors of the July putsch, the followers of Islamic teacher Fethullah Gulen are highly active in the EU capital.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

News in Brief

  1. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  2. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  3. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  4. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row
  5. EU takes six countries to court over air pollution
  6. New Catalan leader sworn in without reference to Spain
  7. Merkel and Putin revive dialogue in troubled times
  8. European companies putting Iran business on hold

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  2. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  3. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  4. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline
  5. Italian populists to defy EU debt rules
  6. Commission 'playing tricks' with EU budget figures
  7. How France escaped EU legal action over chemical ban
  8. 'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations