The Euro Parliament report on Turkey
ELDAR MAMEDOVThe recently adopted European Parliament report on Turkey broadly reflects the prevalent view of Turkey in Brussels: recognition of the value of Turkey’s proactive foreign policy and growing concerns about the lack of serious progress on domestic democratic reforms.
As the events in the Middle East have shown, Turkey indeed has a lot to contribute to the stability, democracy and prosperity in this region. The Turkish model offers a far more attractive option to the Arab world than the Iranian or Saudi theocracies. Turkey’s perseverance in pursuing diplomatic solution to the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program has won it greater access to the Iranian leadership than any European country has at present. It is no coincidence that the talks between the world’s major powers and Iran resumed in Istanbul. If Turkey manages to normalize relations with Israel and resist what Joshua Walker, an American scholar, calls sectarian temptations, particularly in Syria, useful synergies could be developed between the EU and Turkey’s policies in the Middle East.
Turkey’s internal political evolution, in contrast, is a cause of major concern. The report calls on Turkey to review its anti-terror and penal codes which severely restrict the freedom of expression. It strongly criticizes the protracted trials and pre-trial detentions of several elected members of the Turkish Parliament. The judicial probe launched against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party, is seen as evidence that democracy and freedom of expression are not guaranteed in Turkey. MEPs are also concerned about the role of the justice minister in the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the mode of elections to the HSYK.
The European Parliament has expressed concerns over the allegations of the use of inconsistent evidence against the defendants in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, which are probing alleged plots to overthrow the government of the mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
This clause was attacked by the champions of both cases, especially those in or close to the Fethullah Gülen Islamic movement. Gülen’s flagship newspaper, Zaman, accused MEPs of being manipulated by “neo-nationalist propaganda.” This is nonsense. First, the European Parliament is not trying to assume the role of the judge; hence it only speaks of allegations of inconsistent evidence. Second, Harvard’s Dani Rodrik and Pınar Doğan have pointed at numerous anachronisms in these cases.
Mr. Rodrik and Mrs. Doğan may be an interested party (they are the son-in-law and daughter of one of the accused generals), but independent experts from Istanbul’s Yıldız Technical University have confirmed their findings that the digital documents presented as evidence were fabricated. Reputable Western media, such as The Times, The New Yorker and The Economist, have also expressed doubts over the evidence in the Sledgehammer case. The European Parliament has always strongly opposed the army’s meddling in Turkish politics, but ignoring serious claims of doctored evidence coming from the quarters not suspect of pro-coup sympathies would have undermined its credibility.
Parliament, however, is not simply criticizing Turkey; it is also offering a way for the country to right its wrongs – for the first time, it is calling for the opening of the chapters on the judiciary, fundamental rights and justice in the EU accession negotiations. This would provide the necessary tools to address the many shortcomings that the Parliament has correctly identified. Only by closing the gap between its overall benign, if inconsistent, foreign policy and its democratic deficiencies back home can Turkey build a better future for its people and become a model that others, notably in the Middle East, would want to emulate.
Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament who writes in a personal capacity.