Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Opinion

EU-Turkey relations after the coup

  • Democracy is eroding in Turkey (Photo: EUobserver)

The pro-democracy stance that contrasted the recent tentative coup in Turkey has dealt a significant blow to a long tradition of military tutelage and interventions in politics, and pushed away the danger of Turkey’s drifting along the pathway leading to a Syrian-style civil war, at least for now.

This show of national unity in defence of democracy is unprecedented in Turkey’s history and, if used well by all players, could still constitute a basis to overcome the polarisation and divisiveness which characterise both Turkish politics and society and to create a more inclusive democratic regime.

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

However, the outcomes of the failed coup seem to be going into a different direction. There are at least three interconnected areas in which consequences could be felt in the short to medium term: the domestic scene, the EU-Turkey relationship and the broader geopolitical regional setting, of particular importance given the current situation in the Middle East.

Within hours of the attempt, an unprecedented purge was launched to rid the Turkish Armed Forces, the judiciary, the media and the educational establishment of alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic teacher who lives in the US and who is accused of having created a parallel state structure.

There are ongoing worrying reports of human rights violations, torture and ill-treatment of detained people, as well as of further restrictions of freedom of expression, press and other fundamental rights.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been seeking to consolidate his power by making Turkey a presidential republic, could use the popular support he gained from defeating the coup by calling a snap election in search of the majority he needs to change the constitution.

The swift pace of the government’s reaction and the large number of people affected by these measures feed the suspicion that the government is using the coup to eliminate its opponents, regardless of their actual involvement.

The post-coup course of action is confirming that the state of Turkish democracy is deteriorating, and drifting towards authoritarianism already denounced by the opposition and international observers from 2013 onwards.

The reintroduction of the death penalty by Erdogan would unequivocally signal that reforms are being rolled back and would put Turkey on a collision course with the EU, undermining its already shaky candidate status.

But the deterioration of EU-Turkey relations could have negative effects well beyond the accession process. Economic links, the response to the Islamic State threat and tackling migration and refugee flows from Syria are currently at the core of the relationship and indicate a high level of interdependence between the two sides.

The EU has turned to Turkey to try to stop the flow of migrants and the mostly Syrian refugees through the Balkans route, which has created major tensions between its EU states and posed an existential threat to the Schengen agreement.

The EU has been ready to go a long way to secure Turkey’s cooperation, as shown by the agreement of 18 March. The reality is that it would be difficult for the EU to manage the migrants and refugee crises – but also to effectively address current EU security concerns – without some form of Turkey’s cooperation, or worse, in an atmosphere of growing contrast.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that Turkey can live without the EU. In spite of the vagaries of its regional policy, Turkey undeniably needs the EU as an anchor to avoid being completely swallowed by the chaos of the surrounding region, which could threaten its national security and territorial integrity.

It also needs to avoid further tarnishing of strong economic ties, which would have dire impact on Turkey’s stagnating economy, already affected by the situation in the region and the deteriorating security in the country.

In this context, the situation created by the failed coup and its ramifications will certainly complicate the picture but common interests and strong interdependence will persist.

EU institutions and many of its member states have expressed concern at the current developments and invited the Turkish government to respect the rule of law.

The EU should continue to closely monitor the developments in Turkey, remind Turkey of its obligation to uphold democratic principles and strongly condemn any authoritarian drift.

But maximum effort should also be made to keep all channels of dialogue open so as to avoid feeding Turkey’s feeling of isolation, which has reappeared time and again in the country’s history and has often been the prelude of Turkish adventurism.

The final point of concern is geopolitics. Turkey continues to play an important role as a member of Nato.

However, with the collapse of the regional order after the Arab uprisings, policies and alliances by regional and global players have been changing at a fast speed to respond to real or perceived threats and opportunities as well as to geopolitical calculations. The proxy war in Syria is a good case in point.

Against this backdrop, the failed coup may become an additional factor of uncertainty.

Turkey’s suspicion that the US and other foreign countries might have been involved in the coup and the rapid support given to Erdogan by Russia and Iran in its immediate aftermath may open the way to possible shifts in Turkish foreign policy, starting from the Syrian theatre.

Continuous Western efforts will be needed to avoid dangerous drifts which might tilt the balance in this strategic region.

Luigi Narbone is director of the Middle East programme at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute

Turkey recalls ambassador from Austria

Ankara reproaches Vienna for allowing a PKK demonstration but not anti-coup rallies. But the Austrian police said there is no ban on Turkish demonstrations.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

EU must get real on Russia

The EU must call the Ukraine conflict by its true name - Russia's illegal war on its peaceful neighbour - and take commensurate action to protect peace in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  2. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance
  3. EU rolls out €525m for military projects, but bars illegal tech
  4. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  5. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  6. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  7. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  8. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us