Turkey – friend of foe?

IMG_3522Turkey is facing troubled times – conflicts in the neighbourhood and growing political tensions internally. The raging civil war in Syria has already displaced more than 1 million refugees to Turkey, while the attacks of the Islamic State (IS) are provoking a new stream of refugees, mostly Yazidis. Meanwhile, tensions amongst the political elite and different segments of the population are rising. In 10 August 2014 the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the presidential elections in the first round with nearly 52% of the vote. In spite of unprecedented waves of protest as well as corruption allegations, he did not have any trouble being elected as President. The new Prime Minister and Head of the AK-Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and his government have been confirmed on September 6th.

At an event held in Brussels on 30 September, experts discussed the current situation in Turkey and its neighbourhood, as well as its relations with the EU. They explained how the Rule of Law has been continuously threatened over the past 2 years and the crackdown on police and investigators involved in the investigations on alleged corruption case involving Erdogan’s family are continuing. The elections for the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors are set for the 11 October. The corruption case involving Erdogan’s entourage in December 2013 finally cost four ministers their post. The parliamentary commission in charge of investigating the allegations has finally received the documents. But the police investigation has been stopped. Selçuk Gültasli, Brussels correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Zaman Daily, denounced the “witch hunt” against free media in Turkey. A colleague of his, Ali Aslan, was attacked by Erdogan’s bodyguards on Saturday in New York, while another colleague’s twitter account was blocked. Gültasli also reported that during the latest visit of the new Turkish EU minister in Brussels, he was purposefully not invited to the press conference.

It might be surprising for an external observer, that despie these heavy breaches to the Rule of Law and basic freedoms IMG_3528and the serious corruption allegations, the rule of the AK-Party and Erdogan are not threatened. Dr. Hans-Georg Fleck, resident representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Istanbul, deplored the lack of a political opposition capable of challenging the AK-Party. In his view, as long as the economic success of Turkey is not threatened, the success of Erdogan’s policies amongst the population will ensure him an easy win in the upcoming parliamentary elections of June 2015, in the worst case a two thirds majority, which would allow the AK-Party to change the Constitution.

The speakers also discussed the EU’s role in promoting the Rule of Law and democracy in Turkey. Ivo Vajgl MEP, IMG_3512member of ALDE and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, recalled that the EU does have a responsibility towards the Turkish people and that European politicians and diplomats have to be more courageous in discussing these issues with their Turkish counterparts. But at the same time, Turkey remains a strategic partner, being the only stable country in the region and a member of NATO. The EU has to adopt a “tougher stance” according to Ivo Vajgl, who deplored that the “EU has not been able to act as a credible partner and has not delivered regarding the accession process”. In his view, it is possible to tackle the lack of Rule of Law, while at the same time cooperating with Turkey. Dr. Fleck agreed by saying that the EU’s policy towards Turkey “has been taken hostage by certain EU member states”.

Julie Cantalou