The hypocrisy and duplicity of the EU membership process
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Paris this month, attempting to fill the vacuum left by Washington and Berlin and keep the Turkish president, who steadily is moving closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin, from distancing himself completely from the West.
Even if Macron was not prepared to invite Erdoğan for a formal state visit, he has been in constant contact with Ankara, even negotiating the release of arrested French journalists.
During the Paris meeting, Macron gave two critical messages. His first was directed at Erdoğan. Macron said Turkey-EU relations are not even conducive to Turkey negotiating existing chapters right now, let alone turning over a new leaf. Such a statement is undoubtedly justified and important when the rule of law and freedom of the press is at stake in Turkey.
Macron also emphasised that the EU's political approach to Turkey is neither consistent, nor honest. "We made promises that we could not keep," Macron said.
Maybe the French president should have talked about his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's political stance towards Turkey's membership talks. The most critical break in EU-Turkey relations, the ending of the Helsinki process, and the deterioration of the EU's credibility with regards to its Turkey policy started with Sarkozy and further intensified with Berlin's support.
Right now, all these hypocritical policies have brought us to a dead end. Nevertheless German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s suggestion that "a smart Brexit deal between Britain and the EU could become a template" for Turkey-EU relations is not a well thought out approach.
Gabriel’s suggestion that countries can resume weapons trade once German journalists are released is a scandal, it is an example of the EU's duplicity. Only a duplicitous politician who is willing to do or say anything can propose to resuming weapons trade between countries while hundreds of Turkish journalists and democracy activists such as Osman Kavala are in jail in Turkey. From German coalition negotiations, it is quite evident that this does not reflect Berlin's approach to this problem either.
Two essential facts should not be ignored when assessing Paris and Berlin's Turkey policies. Any EU policy that disregards these vital points is not only doomed to failure but also will have nothing but disastrous consequences.
Let us begin with the Turkey-based fact. Even a casual glance at Turkish history is enough to see that there is a politically polarised country. The last referendum shed light on the sociological and political differences of these two Turkeys. Big cities, the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, more educated voters and most importantly the youth overwhelmingly rejected the "despotic regime" that Erdoğan proposed as the "presidential system." This group of voters desires a Turkey that is integrated with the rest of the world, they want the continuation of the EU process, the democratic rule of law, press freedom, and human rights.
The Helsinki process opened the doors to such a Turkey; a democratic and economically developed country able to produce a domestic political solution to the Kurdish problem. Many in Turkey supported joining the EU and the Helsinki process, believing that a democratic Turkey could be an element of stability, a role model and even a leading force for the region. Democracy was the goal; the issue of membership was secondary.
The second Turkey is very different from the first one. Conservative, ultranationalist, neo-Ottomanist groups in Turkey, represented by Erdoğan, do not care about the rule of law, press freedom, parliamentary democracy, are at odds with the West and had no expectations from EU membership. They still do not.
This group is not even annoyed by the European travel visa requirements. They do not want to join the EU. On the contrary, they want conflict. Erdoğan has never believed in the Helsinki process and has been searching for a cunning way out for years now. But he does not want to bury the membership process without negotiating some financial and commercial deals. Erdoğan knows very well the most recent constitutional amendment and de facto system in Turkey do not overlap with European values.
It would be a betrayal to democratic Turkey to support Erdoğan’s despotic regime and his 'closer relations with EU' approach that is limited only to commercial deals. Not only that, Europe will lose Turkey completely.
As for his view on Europe, Macron is right. The EU's Turkey policy was not consistent, and it was hypocritical. What makes this issue even more dangerous is the fact that the narratives of European politicians have gradually become more and more anti-Turkish to appeal to extreme rightwing voters. Not only in France, but in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and so on.
The EU's Turkey policies have been taken hostage by Europe's extreme right-wing groups. No politician in these countries can articulate a consistent policy that might also appeal to Turkey's democrats.
And that is why the EU's Turkey policy is left to the likes of Gabriel and their populist rhetoric. But a closer look will reveal the fact that the European extreme right has not only taken EU's Turkey policies hostage, but European democracies as well. We observed this during the most recent Austrian elections. These extremists in Europe are also threatening immigrant rights, women's rights, minority rights, and the principle of equality in general. They are looking for a conflict.
Regardless of the Turkey problem, Europe needs to defend its own values, and marginalise racist and xenophobic extreme right-wing political groups. This is the prerequisite for democracy and peace in Europe. It is a prerequisite to integrate and win the hearts of Turkish or other minorities to their communities.
Europe also needs to stick to its own values with regards to its Turkey policies. Only Europe can bring peace and tranquillity to the Middle East, not Russia, Iran or the United States. And, the first step and prerequisite for this is a consistent EU policy towards Turkey that is in line with the founding principles of the union.