European Union disenchanted with Turkey

European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) meeting: Exchange of views on the current political developments in Turkey. (EU Parliament photographic library, 06/06/2013).

European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) meeting: Exchange of views on the current political developments in Turkey. (EU Parliament photographic library, 06/06/2013).

The accidental coincidence of the visit of the European Commissioner Štefan Füle, responsible for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy to Turkey last week, with the crtical moment when the events in Istanbul’s Taksim Square were at their peak, may affect negatively the relations between the EU and this country. Negotiations over Ankara’s roadmap to become one day in the very distant future a full member of the Union may freeze again for another three years. Füle actually went to Taksim Square and spoke to the young demonstrators there and got a taste of the way the Turkish government treats its opponents in the streets, in court rooms and the media.

It was inevitable for the Commissioner to visit the Square albeit he knew this move would be heavily criticized by his interlocutors in the government. And he was right. At the end he found himself caught up in the internal affairs of the Turkish government and finally he was reprimanded by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for using different language while talking to him and when writing tweets.

Democratic consciousness

Štefan  Füle’s democratic consciousness wouldn’t have been disturbed if he was not in Istanbul the wrong days. He would have avoided seeing on the spot how the country is governed at moments like that. Police brutality, absolute control of all mainstream media and utmost contempt for the rights of minorities of any kind must have seriously disturbed even an experienced politician like the EU Commissioner.

Füle was in Istanbul last week to participate in a Conference organised by the country’s Ministry for EU Affairs, entitled ”Rethinking Global Challenges: Constructing a Common Future for Turkey and the EU”. Despite the tragedy that was staged some hundreds meters away from the five-star hotel of the conference, that night the Commissioner in his speech didn’t appear critical over the way the government was treating protesters. He spoke more about the overall prospects of Turkey to join the EU.

However his European standards couldn’t allow him to avoid saying that “the Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy. I am happy that even the government admitted that. What is important now, is not only to launch swift and transparent investigation but also to bring those responsible to account. Democracy is a demanding discipline – not only during election campaigns, but every day. It requires debates, consultation and compromise”.
Unfortunately for Füle, Prime Minister was in the first row of the audience and couldn’t tolerate the slightest criticism, simply because in this way he has managed to win three elections in a row and his electoral base wants all westernized protesters and civic rights activist to be brutally treated. Actually Erdoğan didn’t hesitate to organize the next day anti-demonstrations, not caring at all for the danger to divide more deeply his own country. He is aware that most of his many voters don’t like tolerance and coexistence with progressive youths.

In Strasbourg after Istanbul

Yesterday however the Commissioner was in Strasbourg to participate in a debate on Turkey at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament. Of course this was a quite different audience than the one in the Bosporus hotel and Füle felt obliged to tell the truth about what he saw in Istanbul. Legislators were completely aware of what had happened in Turkey and the Commissioner knew it. So he understood that it was the time for no-nonsense.

In front of the MEPs the Commissioner gave a brief account of what he discussed with the Turks in Istanbul. Then he asked the Parliamentarians to open one more chapter in the EU-Turkey relations as his official position obliged him. After that however he burst out and described what happens in Turkey. He said “In the light of what is at stake, Turkey needs more European engagement, and with it more of European Union standards and values, not less. I followed the events last night with growing concern. It is crucial that in the following days and weeks a policy of appeasement, dialogue and compromise is implemented and that free media coverage is ensured. Any approach based on confrontation and division is a source of even more serious concern, not only for Turkish society, but also for the European Union”.

As a response to this appeal for tolerance by Europe, the Turkish government used its ‘standard’ yesterday morning and threw out of Taksim Square all demonstrators and put the place under siege. Demonstrators then gathered again in Gezi Park near the square. The Turkish police even arrested two foreign correspondents and the government blamed the international media for linking this unrest to the ‘Arab spring’.

No Turkish spring?

Whatever the outcome of the unrest in Turkey will be, the sure thing is that the EU will be from now on much more restricted towards Ankara. The European demands that the police must be held into account about the use of excessive violence doesn’t seem to have gone through. A relevant statement yesterday by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton before the European Parliament on the developments in Turkey, went like that, “I have been very clear in my statements – and I repeat again – that excessive use of force by members of the police against peaceful demonstrators must be swiftly and thoroughly investigated, and those responsible held accountable”.

Despite all that the Turkish government is now unfolding its strategy, to marginalize the demonstrators through massive use of mainstream media. This practice however may further increase the divisions within the society and Europe seems now even more reserved over the prospect of opening more chapters in the accession negotiations.

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