Conspiracy theories won’t work with Turks’ wisdom, former EU envoy says

Conspiracy theories won’t work with Turks’ wisdom, former EU envoy says

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Conspiracy theories won’t work with Turks’ wisdom, former EU envoy says

The EU’s former envoy until 2011, Marc Pierini’s 2013 book in French titled ‘Where Turkey is going?’ has been translated into Turkish. Pierini, who makes frequent visits to Turkey, shared his anecdotes and analysis. Hürriyet photos, Levent KULU

The Turks’ longing for EU type liberal democracy is irreversible, according to the EU’s former envoy.

“There are certainly signs of authoritarianism; at the same time there are many signs of immense wisdom with the Turkish population,” said Marc Pierini who was EU envoy to Ankara from 2006 to 2011.

“This is not a country where you can take people through phantasmagoric theories,” added Pierini, whose 2013 book “Where is Turkey going,” has recently been published in Turkish.

How is what goes on in Turkey seen from Brussels?

It is seen as an internal crisis; a crisis on top of the conservative camp; that is none of the EU’s business. It is a domestic political fight, except that the way it is handled means rolling back the rule of law and separation of powers. That is exactly the message given to the PM when he visited Brussels.

The Turkish government believes it convinced the EU of the obligation of eliminating what it calls a parallel state.

All the politicians listened with attention to this parallel state argument. They did not react simply, it is too complex to understand but their reply was; this is no reason to roll back the reforms achieved in Turkey. This will hurt Turkey and the accession process.

Do you think that talks in Brussels had an impact on the way the issue is handled?

It had an impact on the draft law on the higher council since it was withdrawn but everyone knows that the shift of personnel between the various chambers of higher council already achieved what the government wanted to achieve. The formal move is certainly appreciated in Brussels; but at the same time there is more control of the government on the judiciary.

So the EU will accept this as a fact of life?

No, the EU continues to talk to Turkey; they are still looking at the piece of legislation and they will issue a progress report. The EU is not the daily actor. The markets are and look at what happened in the markets. This is mostly a self-engineered crisis.

How do you see Turkish-EU relations?

We are going through shorter cycles. During Gezi you had this very aggressive language with the EU. That was reversed starting end of September. A chapter was opened. You had a second cycle which was the return to the normalcy. Then Dec. 17 happened, and again conspiracy theories; so it took another plunge in the discourse. That is what is difficult to grasp in Brussels.

What is the sentiment in Brussels about the AKP and Erdoğan?

We can summarize it like this: tell us. In June you tell us “we don’t recognize the European Parliament;” in January the same country the same PM says the EP is the most important institution in the EU; it is one or the other.

So Brussels is confused about Turkey?

Yes. But the fundamentals of Turkey are always the EU and the West which I have been defending in my book. Once the waves of domestic politics subside the reality is Europe certainly for economy, social and education issues as well as security issues, there is no escape.

How do you evaluate the AKP and Erdoğan?

There has been formidable modernization of the country over the first 10 years due to stability which is unprecedented in Turkish history. If you stay here for five years and you go to several cities like Trabzon, Mardin; you can see the transformation. It is there. What is there too, as a foreigner, is the fact that the Anatolian conservatives have been put center stage in the political spectrum. This is a kind of revolution in Turkish politics.

After the 2011 general elections that proved that you are the dominant force; I would have naively expected it was time to organize something that is not natural in Turkey: one, tolerance and coexistence and two, give Turkey a different standing on the world stage.

Instead you had this hyperactive foreign policy narrative saying Turkey is the agenda setter in the Middle East which was short lived. Hubris involved in foreign policy did not work. Then, inside, a rather strong reaction to Gezi...

On the international scene which includes Turkish business, you have a number of interests, obligations, expectations from NATO, Council of Europe, the EU etc. Then you have a domestic political narrative which is contradicting the other. You are sort of split between the two. You achieve one or the other. The past month explains why you cannot achieve both. A state within the state, how police and judges are moved… This is all confusing to the rest of the world. There is a difference between where people expect logically Turkey to be going given its fundamentals and where Turkey is actually going. Sometimes you hear, “Don’t worry this is the domestic narrative.” But whatever you say in Malatya in the morning, it is on the world scene in the afternoon.

Do you share the views that Erdoğan turned out to be an authoritarian leader taking Turkey to an authoritarian regime?

There are certainly signs of authoritarianism; at the same time there are many signs of immense wisdom with the Turkish population. I remember, within few months of my arrival I went to Hamsiköy in Trabzon, it is a tiny village I will never forget the 40 men in the kahvehane (coffee shop). They were conversant with any international issue; we talked about the Caucasus; Cyprus, Merkel, Sarkozy. They knew all of this. If you look at the way the current crisis is evolving you can see people know a lot of things. This is not a country where you can take people through phantasmagoric theories. They are wiser than that.

People cannot easily be taken for a ride and that is irrespective of their political leanings. They are extremely acutely aware of domestic and international politics.

But I am sure you came across many people believing conspiracy theories; isn’t it contradictory to what you say?

Yes, I did. But I call it the modernization of Turkey. You cannot frame the minds of people anymore People have their own judgments. Conspiracy theories won’t work.

The EU is accused of being naïve vis-à-vis the AKP. You talk in your book about how the EU is accused of being an accomplice to the AKP.

When you are an ambassador, you deal with the government and accession talks are done with the government, but it also involves the opposition to the extent the opposition want to be involved. In the 2010 constitutional reform package, the commission looks to the 1982 constitution and the government package and makes a judgment. The opposition said “they are fully in favor of AKP.”

I told them if you put on the table your own version of constitutional reform we would make a judgment; if you don’t, what can we say? If you have one reformist party in government and nobody else in the opposition speaking up, what can we do?

But the government’s reformist nature is being questioned. Many believe the EU fell into the trap.

We were never so naïve as to believe there was no political game. The problem is you want to move to a certain matching of political criteria. On the 2010 example, the EU never said the package was good.

It said it was one step in the right direction, but the methodology was wrong since it was not inclusive. The EU is not the opposition party which most opposition parties would have wanted it to be.

The EU is criticized that it has not voiced its criticisms in a stronger way.

Yes we have; when Commissioner Füle was here 30 March 2010, he said the package is only one step, the methodology is wrong. The problem is that if the EU criticism is not picked up by anybody, what else can you do?

On the contrary a lot of people were looking to the EU to voice its criticism. While many in Europe would think the changes started after 2011, actually there were much earlier signs starting from 2008 such as the Deniz Feneri probe, the tax levy on Doğan media group. The EU is accused of remaining silent to these signs.

Every single move was commented on. In the end, what happens in the country’s political system is up to the citizens. We are faced by a peculiar situation; you had essentially 12 years of political dominance of one party and today the opposition to the PM comes from his own camp not from somewhere else.

Some believe you were personally not so sensitive on the Doğan case?

How can you comment as an ambassador on a tax levy for a businessman you don’t have the tiniest information about?

You are here to get informed about it.

On judicial affairs, as an ambassador you cannot get information.

You knocked on the door of the Doğan group and they did not give you information?

They won’t give you the sensitive information. When you have files before the judiciary, after all you are a foreigner.

Q: You could contact one of the sides.

Of course we did. My economic section did.

You wrote in your book that accession talks have been instrumental in getting the army away from politics. Today even an advisor to the PM admits there was a plot against the army.

What has been a good move has been to remove the army from the political field. No coup, no e-coup. This is certainly the right thing to do. The fact that the government goes back to the trials and tries to explain this was due to other factors; this is where the rest of the world is confused and half of Turkey is confused.

In your book you talk about the cleavage between secularists and religious conservatives.

The rebalancing of the Turkish political scene in the last 12 years is still there. People that 15 years ago felt underrepresented in the political spectrum feel now that it is being achieved. What is still valid is that this society still needs tolerance and coexistence, this theory that power emanates from the ballot box and nothing else does not work.

You argue in your book that Turkish society wants EU membership.

The EU type of liberal democracy is what people want here. This is irreversible. It may take some time of course. From what I hear from the conservatives they are happy that their lifestyles are recognized and that they have their place in the political spectrum, but they are not about taking revenge. They know that will be bad for them, their business. I have to distinguish between the government’s narrative and what the conservative elite thinks; they know their long term interest goes through recognizing that Turkey is diverse, is multi-polar. Some of the moves that have been taken are going in the other direction; a lot of conservatives believe this is not good for them.



Marc Pierini is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, where his research focuses on developments in the Middle East and Turkey from a European perspective.

Pierini was a career EU diplomat from December 1976 to April 2012. He was EU ambassador and head of the delegation to Turkey (2006–2011) and ambassador to Tunisia and Libya (2002–2006), Syria (1998–2002) and Morocco (1991–1995). He also served as the first coordinator for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or the Barcelona Process, from 1995 to 1998 and was the main negotiator for the release of Bulgarian hostages from Libya from 2004 to 2007.

Pierini served as counselor in the Cabinet of two European commissioners, Claude Cheysson, from 1979 to 1981, and Abel Matutes, from 1989 to 1991. He has published three essays in French: “Le prix de la liberté,” “Télégrammes diplomatiques,” and “Où va la Turquie?”