Friday

16th Nov 2018

Analysis

How the EU helped erode Turkish democracy

  • Merkel blocked EU-Turkey talks on human rights, gave Erdogan the upper hand (Photo: Turkish presidency)

Turkey is strong, Europe is weak.

That is the image promoted by the Turkish government at a time when the EU has little leverage on Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan due to the refugee crisis.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Erdogan snatched opposition daily, Zaman, on eve of EU summit (Photo: Reuters)

Europe is partly responsible for getting itself into the situation.

By neglecting the accession process for decades, the EU has contributed to strengthening Erdogan’s authoritarian grip on power. It now finds itself sidelining its own values in return for Ankara’s help on migration, Turkish liberals and analysts say.

“There is lot of disappointment, from certain parts of Turkish society, that the EU is ready to turn a blind eye on the human rights violations, the fighting in the Kurdish areas, the government rolling back on fundamental rights,” Amanda Paul, a Turkey expert at the European Policy Center (EPC), a think tank in Brussels, told EUobserver.

“All this has bolstered president Erdogan, who uses it to shore up support for his constitutional reform to cement his grip on power,” she said.

Erdogan’s stated aim is to alter the Turkish charter to centralise power in his presidential palace.

The EU has struggled to come up with its own solution on how to handle the tens of thousands of asylum seekers coming each month via Turkey and Greece to the core of Europe.

Most of the people are fleeing war in Iraq and Syria. Turkey itself is home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

The situation led to a hasty EU-Turkey deal in which EU leaders promised €6 billion, visa-free travel, and faster accession talks in return for Turkey’s help.

With Erdogan guilty of increasing disdain for human rights, that promise puts the EU in an awkward position.

Turkish analysts said that Erdogan is using the EU accord to legitimise his internal crackdown. He seized a top opposition daily on the eve of one recent EU summit. His military attacks on Kurdish militants in south-east Turkey have displaced 150,000 people.

Cengiz Aktar, a professor of political science in Istanbul, told EUobserver that Turkey is becoming increasingly undemocratic.

"The legislation that is produced by the [Ankara] parliament is 180 degrees opposite to the acquis communautaire,” he said, referring to the corpus of EU law.

Yavuz Baydar, a liberal Turkish journalist and a co-founder of P24, the Platform for Independent Media, said Turkey had all the power because it could break off the migrant deal at any moment.

He said EU leaders let the Turkish government “play them like a yoyo”.

He cited the example of German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who faces prosecution in Germany for a satirical poem on Erdogan, after Turkey put pressure on Berlin to let the case go ahead.

“There is an intrusion of authoritarian mentality represented by the ruling AKP party into Germany,” Baydar said.

“Erdogan wants to copy-paste what [Russian president Vladimir] Putin has done with western Europe - to depict himself as a powerful leader, the father of the nation, who is standing up to Europe,” he said.

Strategic thinking

It didn’t have to be that way, the experts noted.

Turkey has been an EU accession candidate since 1999 and negotiations started in 2005. But out of the 35 chapters in taks on the EU rulebook, just one has been concluded.

“If the EU had kept the dialogue open over the past decades, if accession chapters had been opened, Turkey’s democracy may not be in such a bad state,” the EPC’s Amanda Paul said.

“They [EU] are reaping what they sowed,” she said.

Kati Piri, a Dutch centre-left MEP who is the European Parliament rapporteur for Turkey, said Turkish authorities are first and foremost to blame for the erosion of democratic norms.

She added, however: “Our non-engagement has not helped the situation.”

EU commission deputy head Frans Timmermans has also said that non-engagement made matters worse.

“All those years that we sort of felt comfortable by ignoring them [Turks], but not engaging with them have done nothing to improve the situation in Turkey, on the contrary,” he said in a speech at the EU parliament last week.

He said the EU should open two sensitive chapters, on fundamental rights and justice.

“The EU’s policy has not been helpful to reform-oriented forces in Turkey, NGOs, civil society,” the EPC’s Paul told EUobserver.

She said Germany had blocked many of the chapters, but German leader Angela Merkel is now at the forefront of EU efforts to keep the Turkey migrant deal alive.

“Lack of strategic thinking has led us here,” Paul said.

Turkey widens crackdown on EU free speech

Turkey arrests a Dutch journalist and complains over plans to commemorate an Ottoman genocide in Germany and Sweden after urging legal action against European comedians.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  2. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  3. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  4. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  5. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  6. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  7. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May
  8. Denmark blocks Tanzania aid over homophobic crackdown

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  2. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  3. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  4. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  5. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  6. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  7. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot
  8. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us