The European Union (EU) is taking a cynical approach to its relationship with Turkey and, in the process, undercutting the liberal values that underpin it. Although this may give some short-term benefit to leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, who is facing domestic pressure as a result of mishandling the refugee crisis, it could store up trouble for the future.
The EU’s hypocrisy on Turkey has become very explicit as it drags its feet on the issue of accession to the European Union. That many EU members suggest Turkey is part of the Mideast only reveals their hidden strategy against Islam and Turkey. In doing so, Europeans thus are trying to redraw the regional boundaries of Europe and the regional status of Turkey.
European authoritarianism in targeting Islamic life patterns, and values are being fully exposed in their denial of the freedom of Muslims to practice their religious customs. But they also very tactfully attack Turkey, saying its and authoritarianism cannot be accepted in Europe.
Apparently, the US and EU do influence the policies and politics of Turkey, positively or otherwise, and Istanbul only adjusts to suit their requirements. The EU’s reluctance to consider the Turkish goal of becoming a legitimate EU member – and not just as an ally – has definitely empowered the Turkish government to pursue Islamist goals of the ruling AKP. Turkey, the only Muslim nation in Europe, is obviously not welcome in EU, a block now of Christian nations, that claim to share common high values, but with an increasingly anti-Islam mindset as a part of their joint “democratic’ strategy.
Even as Turkey pushes for EU accession, the EU is interested in stemming the inflow of refugees from Turkey. At a summit on November 29, the EU and Turkey cut a two-part deal. The first involved promising Ankara cash and visa-free travel for its citizens in return for stemming the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU. The second involved re-energizing talks for Turkey to join the club – which may be a farcical strategy to get Turkey work for the EU.
Officially, the EU sets a series of conditions that countries need to meet to join the club and their leaders then beaver away for years to satisfy them. In the past, EU “accession” talks have been a tool for countries with illiberal backgrounds to make a transition to democracy, rule of law and human rights. The process worked pretty well for Greece, Spain and Portugal after their right-wing authoritarian governments fell in the 1970s. It also helped most Eastern European countries escape their Communist heritage following the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of Soviet Union and communist system.
With Turkey, though, the process isn’t working. At the same time that the EU is promising to re-energize accession talks, Turkey is becoming more illiberal and authoritarian under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. All said and done, the EU isn’t sincere about wanting Turkey in the club, while Turkey under the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, therefore, has no intention of making the reforms needed to join the EU.
The EU, under essentially German’s control, is emitting hypocrisy on multiple levels. The EU on an official level pretends to want Turkey as a member, but many of members say they would be “horrified” at the prospect of a country of 78 million people, most of them Muslims, having free movement throughout the Union. They keenly watch all anti-Islamic wars launched by US-led NATO. In turn, the terrorism phenomenon is being used as powerful tool to terrorize the people of EU so that they never support or welcome Turkey in the EU.
Liberal values, of course, include non-discrimination on the basis of religion, but the EU may lack the courage of its convictions when it comes to Islam, as basically the members appear to be anti-Islam by nature and intent. The EU also pretends to care about democracy, human rights and the rule of law, but it barely mentions these aspects, fearing that doing so would infuriate Erdoğan and make him less amenable in slowing the flow of refugees.
Each year the European Commission writes a report on Turkey’s progress vis-à-vis yardsticks relevant to its ultimate membership to the bloc. This year, the report was expected to be published in October. Instead, it was delayed until November, nine days after a general election in which Erdoğan had called to re-establish his party’s overall majority in Parliament. When the Commission’s report did come out, it was suitably critical, and practically cynical. It said freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary had been curtailed, while corruption and discrimination against women, gays and other groups were widespread. The Commission delayed the release to avoid offending Erdoğan by upsetting his election plans.
Foreign leaders don’t normally visit countries in the throes of election campaigns on the grounds that it could be seen as interfering in the democratic process. But Germany’s strong woman Angela Merkel went to see Erdoğan in Istanbul less than two weeks before the elections to talk about the deal that was ultimately agreed at last month’s summit. The photos of the Queen of Europe paying homage to the Erdoğan were useful propaganda for the Turkish president. However, later, the EU has also bitten its tongue as Erdoğan’s media crackdown has intensified. EU leaders are confusing the world.
Instead of cynical hypocrisy, Europe’s leaders should engage in straight talk about Turkey’s genuine requirements, first, its continued crawling toward a fanatic EU. They should offer Erdoğan a choice – EU membership or authoritarianism. A purely transactional relationship in which they give Ankara money and other goodies in exchange for stemming the flood of refugees is not the way to get Turkey on board. European leaders should be sincere and a muted criticism of authoritarianism is also not the way forward.
The EU cannot treat Turkey like it does Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, because Turkey is a European nation and has the right to be in EU. They can genuinely work on Turkey joining the EU but, in that case, they should call it out whenever it fails to meet the required standards of the EU – only if all EU members genuinely follow them, honestly.
What they shouldn’t do is continue with the current course that involves a transactional relationship dressed up as part of an accession process that nobody really believes in.
It is almost inconceivable that Erdoğan will choose the second option. But, if he did, the EU’s leaders would have another tough job, persuading their own citizens that Turkey should be admitted to the club, provided it makes the necessary reforms. Indeed, given the rising tide of right-wing populism, that might be an impossible mission.
But if that’s what the EU thinks, it shouldn’t even pretend to dangle the carrot of membership.