Bridging the gap

There seems to be a disconnect between what the Europeans would like, as expressed by their representatives in the European Parliament, and the goings-on on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, where the European Commission rules.  

This schism has been made spectacularly clear by Cengiz Aktar in his open letter to Josep Borrell, the EU’s head of foreign affairs. 

For example, at a conference in June 2015 Josep Borrell’s predecessor, Federica Mogherini, argued that there was a place in Europe for political Islam. Many Europeans would beg to differ, especially those who in recent years have been the victims of terrorism. 

There is the story of the young officer, who excitedly rang his commanding officer to tell him that the enemy were finally within range. But as his colonel pointed out, this also meant he was in range of the enemy.   

Likewise, 12 years ago in a piece for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, “The Turkish Bridgehead”, I argued that there was another side to the coin, the ongoing enthusiasm for Turkey’s membership of the EU. I also explained that the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam is incompatible with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Yet Turkey is a signatory to both the Cairo Declaration and the International Covenant as well as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. The flagrant manner in which Turkey ignores the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights to release both Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş indicates it is not qualified for membership of the Council of Europe, but like the League of Nations in the 1930s this is just another well-meaning but toothless institution.  

On Thursday the European Parliament passed yet another resolution on Turkey, drawing attention to the fact that both Kavala and Demirtaş were among the many people in Turkey illegitimately imprisoned on politically motivated charges. 

This makes nonsense of Turkey’s intention to “turn a new page” in its relations with the EU, and indicates that the EU’s appointed representatives at the top of the Berlaymont building must be tone-deaf. 

Turkish foreign minister Çavuşoğlu’s talk of “a positive agenda” and “revitalizing the accesssion process” and Borrell’s desire to develop “a cooperative and reciprocal relationship anchored in common values and principles” can only be called a dialogue of the deaf. 

For Turkey the bottom line is visa liberalization and an upgrade of the Customs Union; to revive the accession process is at best wishful thinking or window dressing. Turkey’s leverage, as President Erdoğan has shrewdly noted, is the March 18 statement from 2016, engineered by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at a nocturnal meeting with Angela Merkel in Brussels. This was underlined by Erdoğan in his recent call to President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen,  and by Çavuşoğlu on his visit to Brussels. 

Turkey’s leverage is “cooperation in the fight against terrorism and irregular migration.” In other words, pay up or else we’ll unleash the hordes. Given the fact that Europe has mortgaged its defence to the United States , the likelihood is that Europe will pay up in the name of “a positive agenda” and “constructive engagement”. 

On the same note, German foreign minister Heiko Maas has just paid a cordial visit to Ankara with the stated aim of a constructive and forward-looking development in relations with Germany and the EU. In turn, Turkey presented Germany with a list of military hardware it needs, including engines for the Turkish produced Altay battle tank. Germany has already contracted to cooperate with Turkey in the construction of six 214 Class submarines.  

However, there is no doubt that relations between the EU and Turkey have reached a critical stage, especially as the EU is a major trading partner and prime source of investment for Turkey. The charade taking place in Brussels should not conceal the fact that there is a fundamental difference in values. After all, the European Council decided in Copenhagen in 1993 that the criteria for membership included the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, as well as a functioning market economy. 

Despite the start of  accession talks in 2005, it can objectively be agreed that Turkey fulfils none of these criteria. In fact, under the present regime there has been a regression.       

In October 2012 President Erdoğan’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalın, gave a keynote speech at the Istanbul Forum, where he argued for a new geopolitical framework and rejected the European model of secular democracy, politics and pluralism. In the given situation, it will take a Herculean effort to bridge the gap between two value systems that are slowly but inevitably gliding apart.  


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.