Putting Turkey’s EU Process Back on Track
No disrespect meant to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, but reading his recent article in Politico https://www.politico.eu/article/turkeys-eu-membership/ carrying the title “Let’s put Turkey’s EU membership back on track,” one can not help but wonder if he is in touch with the realities that govern the day.
Cavusoglu says that he has no doubt that Turkey will manage to agree with its European friends to put Turkey’s EU process back on track and goes on to assert his reasons for believing so.
Let’s look at these and see how valid they are.
Cavusoglu says that Turkey is leaving behind the difficult times that followed the 2016 attempted coup, following which it moved to a presidential system of government that has brought faster decision-making and less bureaucracy, allowing reforms to be accelerated.
Furthermore, he argues that Turkey has been relentlessly seeking to consolidate its democracy, because “the Turkish nation deserves the highest standards.”
To the objective eye, all of this appears highly counterintuitive given that is happening in the country today.
It is true that Turkey experienced a major trauma with the failed coup attempt in July 2016. No one can doubt that any democratic government faced with such an event has the right to seek out and prosecute those who are suspected of being behind such an attempt.
It is generally accepted, both at home and abroad, however, that this attempt at undermining Turkey’s democracy has opened the door to actions by the government that not only undermine democracy further but also put into doubt the whole question of a free judiciary in Turkey.
To put it another way, Turkey today does not have the reputation of a country that averted an attack on its democracy and saved it. Instead, it is a country where tens of thousands of people are in prison on conspiracy charges that would not stand up in any court in any EU member state.
It is also a country which has gained the unpleasant reputation of being “the largest jailor of journalists,” and where criticism of its president brings news of new arrests almost on a daily basis.
To make matters worse we now have cases of journalists being beaten with baseball bats for criticizing the president, and being allowed by the authorities to go scot-free.
The claim that moving to a presidential system of government has enabled reforms to be accelerated is also highly questionable. One only has to read the annual progress report by the European Commission on Turkey to see where Turkey’s reform process stands in EU eyes.
In addition to this former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently issued a long piece, dubbed by many as his manifesto against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wherein he explains how the one-man rule we effectively have in Turkey today has done little to enhance our democracy.
This is not a member of the opposition speaking but a key name from Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP).
On the economic side, there is also no shortage of critics of the current system of government in Turkey who underline that all the decisions that have a bearing on the economy are coming from one source.
Many consider this source, namely the president, to be out of touch with the rules that govern liberal economies. At any rate, one needs to be blind not to see the woeful state of the Turkish economy today, which continues its downward spiral.
Cavusoglu goes on to add that the current international context provides strong motives for a closer alliance between Turkey and the EU. He cites the Palestinian issue, the Iran nuclear deal, Syria, and irregular migration among the issues that the EU has to tackle.
The fact that Turkey and the EU have similar views on some of these issues, and face common problems will, of course, ensure continued cooperation between Ankara and Brussels.
This does not mean, however, that such cooperation will reenergize Turkey’s dormant bid for EU membership.
The EU has cooperation on such issues with countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and even Iran, which hardly have an EU perspective. This cooperation is of a practical nature, designed to address issues of the day, and not to lay the groundwork for deeper integrations between the sides.
In addition to that, Turkey needs this cooperation for the sake of its own interests as much as the EU does.
Meanwhile, the upcoming elections for the European Parliament, and the advances expected to be made by parties that oppose Turkey’s EU membership should also put things into better perspective for Cavusoglu with regard to his understanding of the “current international context.”
Cavusoglu goes on to address the burning issue of the day in Turkey, namely the decision by the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to annul the results of the March 31 municipal election in Istanbul.
This decision has shaken Turkey to the core and worsened its international image as a country where democracy is in rapid decline.
Cavusoglu, nevertheless, tries to understate the significance of the YSK’s highly contentious move by saying it is a “judicial decision taken by an independent body which has received the praise of European monitoring mechanisms for its previous professional work.”
It may have received praise for is previous professional work, but it is telling that there is no such praise this time around. To the contrary senior EU officials have openly come out to question the YSK’s decision, with some going so far as to characterize it as a “farce.”
It is not difficult to assume, therefore, that Cavusoglu’s contentions in his Politico article regarding Turkey’s all but dead EU bid were also received as “farcical” by many in Europe.