The EU’s FETÖ dilemma
The European Commission’s report on Turkey, released last week, angered the Ankara government because the document referred to the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen as “the Gülen movement” rather than the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
The Foreign Ministry stated that “we think that not mentioning in the report the threat from FETÖ, which cowardly attacked our state, our parliament and our people is a critical deficiency.” EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik also stressed that the Turkish government now considers FETÖ a terrorist group.
“We believe it is a major mistake to refer to FETÖ as the ‘Gülen movement’ and employ rhetoric implying that it is just an innocent civil society organization. There is a reference in the report to the fact that our government considers the ‘Gülen movement’ a terrorist organization, which can be considered to be some progress. But it cannot be considered major progress,” Çelik said.
Similarly, the European Commission also refrained from blaming Gülenists for the July 2016 coup attempt. The Commission instead noted that “the Turkish authorities considered [Gülenists] responsible for the organization and execution of the July 15, 2016 attempted coup,” thus taking a rather neutral line.
But even though the Commission tries to avoid directly confronting the organization, it cannot escape the dilemma. Because even though it has not used the words that Ankara wants to hear to describe the Gülen movement, it has to tacitly admit the existence of the movement within the state apparatus.
The previous 2016 report talked about the “alleged influence of the Gülen movement on state structures,” while the 2018 report did not refer to this view as an “allegation.” Page 14 of the report states that “the government’s primary focus has been dismantling the Gülen movement and tackling its influence over and infiltration of state structures and society.” The same section also talked about the “presence and influence of the Gülen movement abroad.”
So if the report accepts that there is a movement that has infiltrated state structures, and has influence over society, and has presence abroad, then it is must also recognize that it is in direct confrontation with the government. So what is this movement? Where does it fit in the framework of the European Union’s criteria about the rule of law, respect for constitutional order and transparency? The European Commission avoids taking a position on these issues.
There is one more important issue to consider. The report stresses that judicial processes involving suspected members of the Gülen movement and coup plotters have raised serious questions about respect for international standards. The report states that criteria used to determine a suspect’s alleged links to the Gülen movement - such as the attendance of a child at a school affiliated with the group, the depositing of money in a bank affiliated with the group, or the possession of the mobile messaging application ByLock – are vague. The report is also very critical of large-scale dismissals of officials from public service.
To summarize, the report underlines the importance of conformity with the law, thus raising questions about the current dismissals and trials of Gülenists. The sensitivity that the European Commission shows regarding the rule of law is understandable given the principles and standards it observes. Nobody should expect a different approach from Brussels.
The problem is that while the European Commission shows necessary skepticism about anti-Gülen measures, at the same time it chooses to ignore the vast volume of evidence regarding the presence of Gülenists in the state and their responsibility in the July 2016 coup attempt. This approach unavoidably leads one to think that the European Commission either fails to recognize and understand recent events in which the Gülenists played a role or it deliberately avoids the reality.
The European Commission appears to differ from the widely held belief that the Gülenists established a parallel structure within the state and its members organized the coup attempt. It is fair to say that this reality widens the gap between Turkey and the European Union.