Turkey: The consequences of authoritarianism

Sayed Abdel-Meguid , Saturday 2 Mar 2019

For all intents and purposes, Turkish aspirations for accession to the EU are blocked, to the eminent chagrin of Erdogan

Arab-European Summit

There was once a time, from the 1980s to the opening years of this millennium, when there were high hopes in both Turkey and Europe that the former would be accepted as a fully-fledged member of the EU.

But the more that Ankara’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed their theocratic and anti-democratic stripes, the more those hopes faded.

Today, in light of recent developments in the EU parliament, Turkey’s chances for accession anytime in the foreseeable future seem more remote than ever.

One can therefore understand Ankara’s reactions to the Arab-European Summit that was held in Sharm El-Sheikh this week. When Erdogan’s official spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, tweeted “Shame on you all”, it was in a pique of envy. The spite grows fiercer at the sight of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi at the centre of events in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Turkish authorities have been seething for days, not because Turkey was snubbed in the Arab-EU Summit (Ankara had not been invited to attend in any capacity), but because that event, which gave another boost to Egypt’s regional and international profile, came only days after the EU Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee voted by an overwhelming majority (47 against seven with 10 abstentions) in favour of the EU Commission’s last annual report on Turkey, recommending the suspension of accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU.

The reasons come as no surprise: the Turkish government’s increasingly abysmal record on human rights and civil liberties, the moribund independence of the Turkish judiciary, as well as Ankara’s penchant for stirring up and aggravating territorial disputes with neighbours such as Cyprus.

The entire EU Parliament will vote on the EU Commission’s report when it convenes in Strasbourg in two weeks’ time.

Erdogan shrugged off the committee vote during a TV interview broadcast live Saturday. His country attaches no importance to the EU Commission’s report, he said.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, especially given how the report directly links its recommendation to suspend talks to his government’s anti-democratic policies and his own autocratic conduct.

True, on more than one occasion, he has suggested bringing the question of Turkey’s EU accession to a referendum, but few read this as more than a demagogic ploy, a means to arouse popular wrath against the EU’s foot-dragging on Turkey’s membership because of the EU’s “Islamophobia”.

But behind the facades and all the propaganda, Ankara is still bent on that dream. In fact, Erdogan said so himself barely a week ago when he stated, once again, that full membership in the EU remains a “strategic goal” and stressed that Turkey would continue talks towards this end “in a manner commensurate with its strength and the active role it plays in the region and the world”.

He also insists that the deeply-rooted Turkish-European relationship improved “more than ever” only under the AKP government which made great strides towards accession despite occasional tensions.

He added, “we value the mechanisms of the high-level dialogue between Turkey and the EU which cover a full range of issues from the economy, energy and transport to the fight against terrorism and other vital matters.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy underscored the fact that the report was purely advisory and non-binding.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the non-binding, advisory draft report is calling for a total suspension of our accession talks to the EU,” he said, adding: “We expect the necessary corrections to be made and the final report to be more realistic, impartial and encouraging. Only such a report will be taken into consideration by our country.”

Aksoy went on to stress: “Turkey is committed to its EU accession process and determined to maintain its reform agenda... What is needed is not the suspension of Turkey’s accession process, but the removal of obstacles for the accession process.”

It is unlikely that such statements will sway European parliamentarians. “My expectation is that in two weeks a large majority of the [European Parliament] will vote for the suspension of accession talks with Turkey, as the [European Parliament] Foreign Affairs [Committee] did today,” tweeted Kati Piri, EU rapporteur on Turkey.

Most of that majority would share European Parliament member Marietje Schaake’s belief that it is pointless to continue accession talks with the current government in Ankara.

“Human rights violations and arrests of journalists occur on an almost daily basis while democracy and the rule of law in the country are undermined further,” she said.

“This, in combination with the constitutional changes has made Turkey’s accession to the European Union impossible at this stage. The message of the parliament today is crystal clear. We attach consequences to Erdogan’s authoritarian grip on power.”

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