Turkey cannot bribe or blackmail the Council of Europe

Turkey cannot bribe or blackmail the Council of Europe

Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe, which remains one of the strongest institutions anchoring Turkey to Europe.

Ankara accepted the right to individual petition to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1987. Turkey is therefore committed to abide by universal (not just European) democratic standards. This is one of the most important assets and symbols distinguishing Turkey from other third world countries, mainly the autocracies and dictatorships of the Middle East.

However, Turkey recently informed the Council of Europe that it will withdraw from being one of the six major donors to the European body.

The ostensible justification for the move is unease over an award given to a suspected member of the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), believed to have orchestrated Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recently awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2017 to Murat Arslan, the former chair of the Judges and Prosecutors Union (YARSAV), who has been arrested since 2016 over links to FETÖ.

However, experts familiar with the issue believe that Turkey was mainly reacting against PACE’s decision to bring Turkey under monitoring again. PACE voted in April last year to reintroduce (for the first time in 13 years) the monitoring process for Turkey, arguing that constitutional amendments significantly expanding the powers of the presidency “do not comply with the fundamental understanding of democracy.”

The declaration of the state of emergency, the state of emergency decree laws, and the detentions of MPs and journalists have all paved the way to the reinstitution of the monitoring process.

I cannot blame PACE for reinstituting the monitoring process on Turkey, though I must say that I find its decision in the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize highly controversial.

But ultimately we cannot judge the Council of Europe and its institutions based on our liking of its individual decisions. We cannot applaud, for instance, the ECHR’s ruling against Switzerland for its law criminalizing denial of Armenian genocide claims while also denouncing it when it rules against Turkey over long trials and detention times.

It is therefore tremendously unfortunate for Turkey to withdraw from being one of the major donors of the Council of Europe. The Ankara government should not shape its approach towards the Council of Europe based on Europe’s approach to Turkey, but rather over the Council’s main mission of overseeing that its 47 members abide by democratic standards.

After all, the Council of Europe is one of the multilateral organizations used by Turkey to fight against growing racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in many European countries. Indeed, prominent Turkish academic Gün Kut has since 1996 served as member of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and was also from 2004-2007 a member of the Management and Executive Board of the EU Monitoring Center (EUMC), representing the Council of Europe. What’s more, the ECHR has also served as a legitimate international remedy to address rights violations against people of Turkish descent in Europe, as we have seen in the case of Greece.

More importantly, it is unethical to decrease funding in an act that appears to be an attempt to bribe or blackmail the Council of Europe. A move that could be read as saying “I’ll pay up if you don’t criticize me but won’t pay up if you do” is very damaging in terms of Turkey’s credibility and reputation.

Barçın Yinanç, hdn, opinion