MEPs call for reconciliation with Turkey
There was a hint of regret in the air as MEPs Elmar Brok and Kati Piri on Tuesday (30 August) debriefed fellow members of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee about their recent trip to Turkey and urged their colleagues to stand by EU deals with Ankara.
Brok, the committee's chairman, and Piri, the parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, last week met prime minister Binali Yildirim and several other members of the Turkish government. They also spoke to representatives of all opposition parties and civil society organisations.
Both said they had reassessed some of their views in the course of their visit.
Brok, a German centre-right MEP, said he had changed his mind about some aspects of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen movement, who Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says was behind the failed coup attempt on 15 July.
”Since 2013 there were signs the Gulen movement intended to do more than was realised,” Brok said. He added that the movement had ”invaded” the Turkish state to a much larger extent than they realised with the goal of applying sharia law in the country.
He reminded MEPs that on 15 July rockets were ”metres” away from killing 125 members of the Turkish parliament.
”It became very clear to me,” Brok said, “that Turkey has gone though a shock”.
Piri, a Dutch Socialist, said she had “clearly underestimated” the events' impact on Turkish society.
”[EU high representative for foreign affairs] Federica Mogherini was first to condemn the coup … but the first reports in the media suggested it was a staged coup,” she said.
She noted that while the European Parliament voiced concerns over the wave of arrests at an extraordinary session on 19 July, “there was very little focus on the 248 civilians” who lost their lives as they confronted plotters.
”That’s where we made a mistake,” she said.
The pair still worried that Turkey’s post-coup purge of Gulenists could target innocent people - for instance Asli Erdogan, the journalist detained in a crackdown on Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.
Those arrested had no access to a lawyer during their first five days of detention, under Turkey’s emergency laws, undermining their right to a fair trial.
Piri also said she expected strained relations as Turkey tried to track down Gulen-linked people who are living in EU member states.
She said Turkey had no right to interfere in the domestic affairs of EU countries, and ask, for instance, for extraditions of Turkish Gulen-linked nationals.
"Turkey wants to join the EU", she said. "We have the right to be involved with domestic affairs of accession countries. It doesn't go vice versa."
Brok and Piri were also worried that HDP, the pro-Kurdish party, was being ostracised by Turkey’s rulers.
They had, however, received assurances that Turkey didn’t use torture in its prisons and didn’t plan to reintroduce the death penalty, “despite the high rhetoric of the summer.”
The foiled coup even had a silver lining.
”Turkey has now a clearer position on the Islamic State,” Brok said. Ankara last week stepped up the fight against the terrorist group, but it has been suspected of supporting it in the past.
”For the first time, in a long time, we heard hope from all three opposition parties,” Piri added.
“They were saying that the impact of 15 July could bring something positive around. So who am I to say this will lead to something bad? Let’s keep an open mind.”
She added that PKK, the Kurdish guerilla group, had recently stated they were willing to unilaterally cease fire and restart peace talks, which failed last summer.
MEPs urged their colleagues to show Ankara that the prospect of visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens was still on the table if Turkey fulfilled the remaining five conditions which include a change in its anti-terrorism law.
Piri also hoped that the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee would soon convene, having failed to do so for the last year.
Brok said that his EPP group - the parliament’s largest - should ”look at” chapters 23 and 24, the EU accession chapters on justice, security and fundamental rights that Turkey would like to see open.
EU-Turkey relations rebooted
”The fact that [the foreign affairs committee] AFET came so close to admitting it was wrong made a refreshing change of tone,” Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, director of the Brussels-based think tank European Neighbourhood Council, told EUobserver.
That was certainly going to be picked up by Turkish authorities, who have been angry over the lack of EU solidarity in the aftermath of the coup.
Blok and Piri were the first EU representatives to visit, more than a month after it happened.
Doveri Vesterbye said he could also see a change in the overall approach to Turkey from the committee chair.
”Brok tried convincing colleagues that it’s not enough just to criticise Turkey for its human rights breaches," when the EU clearly relied on its southern neighbour in a variety of fields.
The German MEP had reminded colleagues that Turkey was doing more for refugees than any EU member state.
"Europe also needs Turkey in the fight against terrorism, for energy transits and as a Muslim ally promoting a relatively moderate form of the faith,” Doveri Vesterbye said.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz will travel to Turkey on Thursday and Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn will follow suit in early September.