Jun 28 2018

Turkey is now an “institutionalised autocracy” former EU ambassador says

Turkey is now an “institutionalised autocracy, without any real checks and balances”, following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election that ushers in a powerful new executive presidential system of government, wrote Marc Pierini, former EU Ambassador to Turkey and visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe.

But the European Union should still use its soft power to influence Turkey and promote cooperation on issues such refugees and counter-terrorism, he said.

Erdoğan won an outright majority in presidential elections on Sunday and will take up the new powers approved in a referendum last year. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right nationalist allies also secured a majority in parliament.

“Turkey is now an institutionalised autocracy, without any real checks and balances,” Pierini said. “The country is on a different orbit than the EU. There is no way to reconcile its new style of governance with EU standards. There is no intention in Ankara to return to a system that is anywhere near these standards.”

The shift to the right in the polls means Turkey is more likely to pursue a more Turkey-centred and nationalist foreign policy, Pierini said, which will mean more friction with the West.

Pierini noted that one of Erdoğan’s first major trips abroad under his new mandate would be to a NATO summit in Brussels on July 11, where Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and possible U.S. counter-measures to block the delivery of F-35 fighter jets would be on the table. Possible bilateral meetings between the Turkish president and the EU leaders would be uneasy encounters due to concerns over refugees and economic interests, but also counterterrorism cooperation.

“After all, anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 returning jihadists with EU passports are currently on Turkish soil, and the declared ISIL (Islamic States) strategy is to send them back to Europe as operatives in their countries of origin. Cooperation with Turkey is therefore a must,” Pierini said. 

Visa liberalisation, the customs union, modernisation, refugees, and counterterrorism would continue to be top priorities in EU-Turkey relations, Pierini said.

“Despite that, the EU should continue to increase its support to human rights defenders, independent media, and civil society. This is probably an even more arduous task than before the election. If the EU believes in soft power, Turkey is the place. This country matters,” Pierini said.