What do you do if you are Turkey and do not like the EU Commission’s Progress Report, the annual “report card” for candidates that shows where they stand in their bid for membership in the union?
Well, first you get your minister in charge of the whole affair to treat this report as a worthless piece of paper. Then you get a key jurist from the governing party to symbolically throw it in the garbage on live television.
Finally, you prepare your own immaculate “Progress Report,” full of self-praise, and start blowing raspberries at Europe by pointing out how wonderfully Turkey’s democracy is progressing at the same time that the EU is in such a state of dissolution that it can only be saved by Turkish membership.
This is what the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government did last week, getting its EU minister and chief negotiator, Egeman Bağış, to announce Turkey’s own Progress Report, which supposedly tells the world what the situation in Turkey really is. If this is not “Turkish-style self-gratification,” then what is?
Of course, no one can claim that the EU has behaved completely decently toward Turkey. There is also truth in what Bağış says when referring to bigotry in certain European countries and quarters toward Turkey. It is also true that the EU is not what it used to be, having lost much of its charm for many Europeans, let alone Turks.
It is also true that there are many European politicians and strategists looking at Europe’s long-term economic and strategic interests, and admonishing as “dangerously shortsighted” those who have been opposing Turkish membership on civilizational grounds.
As has been frequently repeated in this column, however, it is the powers-that-be in Europe, when the time comes, who will decide if Turkey becomes a member or not, and not the man on the street. This was also the way it happened for Turkey’s Council of Europe and NATO memberships.
Both were initially resisted – although not on civilizational but political grounds – but both happened in the end because the way of the world, with Soviet expansionism turning into a nightmare for the West, required it.
If Europeans naïvely believe they will have a say in Turkish EU membership when the chips are really down, then they should consider just how much say they have today in what their leaders are doing to get Europe out of its economic crisis.
One does not see any referenda on whether the current austerity measures – which are making life much more unbearable than Turkish membership probably would – should be implemented or not. All the deeply disappointed average European can do today is to take to the streets in futile protest.
To return to Turkey, though, the point is that Ankara’s own progress report can be taken as the latest reflection of the government’s reluctance when it comes to reforms which are required for EU membership, but much more importantly, are also vitally important for this country’s own sake. This self-gratifying report is no more than a smokescreen, enhanced by meaningless demagoguery, which is designed to shroud what the Erdoğan government has not done.
But railing at the EU and debunking its Progress Report – which most democratic and liberal Turks would endorse, despite some technical mistakes – does not do away with the problems this country faces daily in the areas of democracy, human rights, press freedoms and others.
One really has to have selective eyesight not to see the objective truths contained in the EU’s Progress Report, and to swallow hook, line and sinker what the Erdoğan government’s subjective Progress Report claims are Turkey’s grand successes.
All of this shows that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is less interested in EU membership today, and more interested in its popular image, which it believes is being willfully tarnished by a bigoted Europe.
Other than that, Ankara’s “Progress Report” is a meaningless exercise.
Note: I learned with sadness the untimely and tragic death of Ümit Enginsoy, a long-time colleague and dear friend, in an unfortunate accident. He was a committed journalist and a truly fine fellow who will be sorely missed by those that loved him and cherished his friendship. May he rest in peace.