Monday

17th Jun 2019

Opinion

Appeasement will not work with Erdogan

  • The mausoleum in Ankara of Mustafa Kemal Ataturkk (1881-1938), widely considered the founder of a modern, secular, democratic Turkey - which Erdogan's critics say he is now destroying (Photo: David Stanley)

The European Union's top leaders are meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this Monday (26 March) in the Bulgarian city of Varna.

This is the second mini-summit with the Turkish president in less than a year - and when Turkey is reaching new lows in violating basic human rights and fundamental freedoms as an EU 'acceding candidate country'.

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When European Council president Donald Tusk and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker together with the EU rotating president Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov will sit with Erdogan, "issues of mutual interest" will dominate the table, according to the invitation letter sent by Tusk.

There is not one single reference to Turkish accession talks. The recurring theme is "common interests".

That is basically what has been going on since the Turkish government led by Erdogan started its despotic drift when serious corruption charges erupted in December 2013.

The Turkish government silenced the media, confiscated resisting newspapers, took the full control of the judiciary, jailed members of parliament and sped up its 'democracy-killing' in the wake of the botched coup attempt of July 15, 2016 which Erdogan famously called "a gift from God".

Yet, the EU leaders pretend Turkey is still on the way to becoming an EU member and fulfils the 'Copenhagen criteria', the strict set of rules for a country to be declared a candidate.

In fact, Brussels knows it better than anyone that Turkey has never been further away from those criteria.

Yet for the sake of the migration deal and other "interests", the EU keeps appeasing president Erdogan, implicitly approving his draconian measures that puts Turkey in the same league with Russia and China.

The pretension that Turkey is still a EU candidate country helps Erdogan to consolidate the democratic facade of an increasingly authoritarian regime.

Appeasement does not work

Appeasement policy does not work at all.

On the contrary, it encourages Ankara to speed up dismantling the remaining pillars of an already-weakened democratic regime. Just have a look at what has happened in the past few days while Erdogan was busy with studying his dossiers before the summit.

Turkey's largest media group, Dogan, was sold to one of Erdogan's cronies at a very low price, a few days after Turkish president issued a veiled threat to the owner of the group that he can be jailed.

Although Dogan had already been tamed and was only critical at times, even that was apparently off limits.

On the same day as this sell-out, the Turkish parliament approved a law for online broadcasting giving far-reaching powers to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) in allocating licences.

More than 100,000 websites are already banned in Turkey and with these new super-powers, the government-controlled RTUK will be used to silence the last bastions of critical online media.

On Thursday, the German Bertelsmann Foundation published its yearly democracy report, in which it analysed the democratic transformation of some 129 countries.

The report found that Turkey, Brazil and Poland were the countries that have fallen most in the democratisation index and where "political situation has become significantly worse".

The foundation concluded: "In no other country has the subversion of separation of powers advanced as much in recent years as in the highly defective democracy on the Bosporus."

The most condemning of all was the United Nations report on human rights in Turkey.

The report, which was quickly dismissed and condemned by the Turkish authorities as full of "unfounded allegations of terrorist organisations", showed in detail how torture, ill-treatment, sexual assault and electric shocks have made a comeback in 'EU candidate' Turkey.

The most disturbing finding of the report was the detention of some 100 women who were either pregnant or had just given birth on the grounds that they were their husband's associates.

Some of the mothers were detained with their children and some were violently separated from them, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein described as "simply outrageous and utterly cruel".

On top of that, 160,000 people were arrested during an 18-month state of emergency; 152,000 civil servants were dismissed, many totally arbitrarily according to the UN report.

These all happened within just the week preceeding the EU leaders' meeting with president Erdogan.

As EU leaders refrain from using their diminishing leverage on Turkey, its dismantling of democracy only speeds up.

It is now high time for EU leaders to realise that appeasement only helps Erdogan maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its institutions.

Selcuk Gultasli was Brussels bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. Zaman was closed by decree of the Turkish government in July 2016

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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