European security, the rule of law and Turkey

European security, the rule of law and Turkey

The European Union on May 2 unveiled plans for its first post-Brexit multi-year budget, risking a clash with EU members Poland and Hungary over a proposal to link funding to respect for the rule of law. The European Union on May 2 unveiled plans for its first post-Brexit multi-year budget, risking a clash with EU members Poland and Hungary over a proposal to link funding to respect for the rule of law. 

Budgetary requirements of member states may be bound to the implementation of democratic standards, as they were set at the 1993 summit in Copenhagen. Warsaw and Budapest, which are also criticized by Brussels over their refusal to accept refugees, both oppose attempts to impose political conditions on their access to billions of euros of funds. EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has suggested that the 2021-27 budget will amount to more than 1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion).

If the European Commission imposes a new rule for monitoring the current political standards of member states based on the original Copenhagen Criteria - by using the budget as a stick - it could bring new challenges for the EU after the departure of the U.K. It could also make it more difficult for many countries, mostly Eastern European ones, to stay within the EU. 

Many Eastern European countries were accepted as member states to the EU in 2004 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1992 and the Warsaw Pact/Comecon system that held the Soviet bloc together. Bulgaria and Romania have also been criticized by Brussels over the state of the rule of law.

As a long-time candidate for the EU, Turkey is also under heavy criticism from Brussels over problems in the rule of law and democratic institutions, aggravated by the current state of emergency. These criticisms were most recently detailed in the EU’s annual progress report, which was duly rejected by the Turkish government. 

It is feared that campaigning ahead of the June 24 snap election will see renewed clashes between Ankara and Europe, as President Tayyip Erdoğan will be hoping to address Turkish voters living in Europe. Countries with significant Turkish-origin populations like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and France all say they do not want to see the echoes of Turkey’s polarized domestic politics carried to their own cities.

Both the EU and Turkey see that there may well be no serious political future in their relationship, but neither wants to be the side that breaks off ties. There are important economic reasons and strategic relations for this.

Recently, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Hürriyet Daily News’ Serkan Demirtaş that “everyone who can read a map can see Turkey’s key importance” for the security of Europe. Stoltenberg also acknowledged Turkey’s right to fight terrorism. Those words came in answer to arguments from some quarters that Turkey should be kicked out of NATO because it no longer fits the criteria of European democracies. But European members of NATO (most of them members of the EU as well) are also under criticism from the U.S., which is asking them to allocate larger budgets and efforts for joint defense. 

The EU thus seems to be struck between its democratic principles and its security concerns. That prompts three questions in particular at this stage:

1- Is it realistic to think that the EU will sever ties with Eastern European states, especially with Poland? This is particularly worth considering amid fears of Russia’s growing influence in Europe, as can be seen in the tension in Ukraine and the Baltic states.

2- Is it realistic to think that cutting ties with Turkey will help Europe’s security and economic development? And will it help advance the democratic standards of both Turkey and the EU?

3- Is it realistic to think that constantly showing a stick to Turkey will help develop both the democratic standards of Turkey and advance European security?

While considering these questions, it is also worth asking why the EU continues to decline to open the 23rd and 24th accession negotiation chapters with Turkey, addressing the issues of the judiciary and basic freedoms.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion, Turkey