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There may be a better idea than the EU’s freeze of negotiations with Turkey

There may be a better idea than the EU’s freeze of negotiations with Turkey

3.12.2016 . European Union – Turkey  

After the Turkish President announced he would call for a referendum on the accession process to the European Union, the EU Parliament voted a resolution calling for the freeze of accession negotiations – is it a draw?

With each passing day, Turkey is pulling away from the EU”, warns President of the European Commission Jean Claude Junker. For several months already, Brussels bureaucrats have stepped up customary statements thus showing their powerlessness.

When it comes to Turkey, the EU is stranded: it does not know how to proceed, torn between its values and its interests. First, its values: they are based on human rights, but also on the respect of asylum rights. This should bring the EU to issue a straightforward condemnation whenever Turkey violates any of these values, to suspend the accession negotiations, or to refuse keeping this country in its institutions. Then, it should also accommodate those who are getting more numerous by the day and who are knocking at its door as they are fleeing persecutions.

But then Europe must also defend its interests: it must contain the rise of populisms and xenophobia, to which increasing sectors of its population are getting more and more sympathetic, as they are getting worried, rightly or wrongly, about the influx of migrants. Then it must protect itself against the threats from ISIS – and this is what is holding back the EU from cutting its ties with Turkey as the latter controls the borders that migrants and jihadists are crossing, as it shelters nearly 3 million refugees, and is also a state whose intelligence services collaborates with ours through highs and lows, and whose armed forces, which are part of NATO forces, are also striking ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

What happens to Turkey must be a matter to us

Thus these two issues –values and interests – seem to be not only contradictory but also incompatible. How can Europe manage its way out of this? Can it apply economic sanctions? In addition to the fact that such sanctions would contravene the EU Customs Union signed with Turkey in 1996, what would they target? Would it be house appliances, or textiles? For whose benefit? To end up trading with Asian countries whose track records in human rights are no better? And to suffer immediate retaliation such as: no Airbus sales anymore, none for any nuclear plants either?

The Turkish economy is already undergoing the crash of foreign direct investments (FDIs, 2/3 of which come from the EU), a fact that, in itself, is already a form of sanction. However, our Member states would be well advised to stop selling weapons or any equipment that can be used by security forces in acts of repression…

To get out ofthe deadlock the treaty on refugee created

Above all, an unequivocal stance on the evolution of the Turkish regime is urgently needed. What happens to Turkey must be a matter to us, if it were only because of the 4 to 5 million Turkish nationals, or persons of Turkish origins, who reside in the EU. A problem, though: how can one take such a stance without breaking up with this country? The risk, otherwise, being that, in Turkey, people massively adopt a harsher stance towards Europe and the West, while the opponents (who still carry on demonstrating with much courage) feel abandoned by the same Europe which nevertheless represents the possibility of a last resort.

 The notorious treaty on refugees, concluded last March with Turkey, must be kept in mind too, as it ties the hands of Europe while President Erdogan threatens to open the gates, thus allowing millions of refugees and migrants to continue their way towards the West. Quite obviously, it is up to Europe to get out of the deadlock it created. To fight off such blackmail would require putting a mechanism into place, which would help keeping control as much as possible over the entry of migrants, and be more compliant with asylum laws. Over the past two years, this is what the EU has sought to achieve without any success. The systematic setting-up of more active and operational hot-spots might help towards this goal, but it would require a political determination presently lacking amongst EU member states.

 Putting an end to it all

 Therefore, the path is very narrow.  All the more so that, however paradoxical it may sound, the accession process to the EU, though moribund, must remain “on”, as it nevertheless keeps alive a form of contact, even some kind of dialogue via the programmes that are funded by Brussels at the cost of millions of euros every year (€10,5 billion adopted for the period 2007-2020), something that Ankara is careful not to remind its public opinion.

If President Erdogan is really determined to put an end to the accession process negotiations, he only has to have the restoration of death penalty voted, or to call up a referendum as he recently indicated. The responsibility for the break up must be left to him and to his voters though he is pushing for Europe to be liable for it.

In that sense, though it is uncertain whether the European Council will approve it, the recent resolution adopted on 25th November by the EU Parliament is a positive development: it unequivocally condemns the Turkish regime’s excesses – and that is appropriate. Furthermore, it calls for the freeze of the accession process, though this is only a proposal that would make the call for a Turkish referendum unnecessary: it would amount to asking the Turkish voters to accommodate the wishes of the EU Parliament…

On the other hand, another great European institution, the Council of Europe, could go much further. This would be much more fitting with its primary mission which is to oversee the respect of democracy and the state of law in its 47 member states. Already, at the time of the 1980 military coup, Turkey saw its participation to the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly suspended and was threatened with expulsion.

 Salvation will come from the Council of Europe

Adopting this type of measure would really have more far-reaching consequences than the suspension of the accession process by a European Union, which, anyhow, has discredited itself in the opinion of Turkey with this botched process marked by endless dithering and humiliation. What’s more, the Council of Europe is in another league. Turkey was one of the first countries ever to join it. It did not have a marginal presence but had a real place, on equal terms with all other countries. The existence of the European Court of Human Rights (on which a Turkish judge actually sits) one of the Council’s main institutions, is well known as well as perceived in a very positive way in Turkey by the civil society, including in the remote depths of the Kurdish country, and among the Alevi and Armenian communities who often appeal to it.

It would provide an exit from the destructive face-to-face between Brussels and Ankara as it would broaden to 47 countries the decision-making mechanism

In other words, one should leave the accession process as is, since everybody knows anyhow that it stands in a state of deep coma and that Erdogan’s Turkey won’t join the EU just now. However, it would be better to take a stance with possible sanctions against Turkey, at the Council of Europe.

Such a move would have 3 advantages: it would provide an exit from the destructive face-to-face between Brussels and Ankara as it would broaden to 47 countries the decision-making mechanism; it would also place such a suspension within the framework of an established historical continuity as it was already applied to Turkey on the occasion of the 1980 military coup (such as happened to Greece under the Colonels, and Russia for its repression of the Chechen people); and finally it would have a real symbolic significance as Turkey has been a full member of the Council of Europe ever since its early days in 1949/1950.

 The threat of a suspension will most probably have little effect on President Erdogan who has entered an autocratic spiral for his political (even physical) survival.  Yet, on the one hand, this would send a strong signal to the democrats who are resisting him, and could trigger an awareness shock among the Turkish islamist-nationalist elites such as the Kemalists. On the other hand, Europe would thus also send a message to its own citizens, about the fact that it cannot continue, without flouting its own values, to simply express pathetic “regrets” and “concerns” in the face of Turkey’s autocratic spiral.

 Reasserting who we are

It is high times that Europe should assert, without cutting ties, that “yes, Turkey no longer fits with European values”. This might not have much impact on Turkish people, but it would be good for us, European citizens, as we would reassert who we are – a way to address the many forms of populism which hover over our continent, including over France.

This way, Europe would react both in the name of Turkish democrats as in that of European democrats. Isn’t it actually what writer Asli Erdogan appeals to, from her jail cell in Barkirköv?

Europe”, she writes, “must take its responsibilities and come back to the values it defined after centuries of bloodsheds, and which is why “Europe is Europe”, that is: democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and of opinion…

Asli Erdogan also warns that: “I am convinced that the existence of a totalitarian regime in Turkey would inevitably undermine, one way or the other, Europe as a whole”.

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Laurence Mazure

Photo : DR

Original version:  N’écoutez pas ceux qui disent que l’Europe est impuissante face à la Turquie, c’est faux


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