By abandoning conservatives AKP helps anti-Turkey bloc in EU

By abandoning conservatives AKP helps anti-Turkey bloc in EU

All right! It is a fact that Turkey’s East has been witnessing historic developments with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Diyarbakır with the Kurdistan Regional Government head Masoud Barzani.

So, it is not going to be an easy job to divert attention from Turkey’s East to the West. Yet, an important decision made last week by the Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) went largely unnoticed in the Turkish public opinion, whereas it needed thorough discussion. 

Actually, I doubt whether the AKP’s decision to abandon plans to join the center-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and instead become a member of the Alliance of European Conservative and Reformists (AECR) in the European Parliament was thoroughly discussed within the party. It seems they (meaning Prime Minister Erdoğan and a few of his advisers) did not even feel the need to consult with the relevant state institutions, including the foreign ministry. Of course, it is a party decision and they don’t need a go ahead from state bodies. 

Yet, when you look at the statements coming from the AKP, one thinks this is a decision triggered by emotional reactionism, rather than being based on a well thought arguments. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the vice chairman and the person responsible for the party’s foreign relations, attributed the decision first and foremost to the confidence crisis with the EPP. In 2004, the EPP invited the AKP to become an associate member, yet it did not deliver on this promise due to the objections from the German and French Christian Democrats, which left the AKP with “an observer” status, according to Çavuşoğlu, who spoke at a press conference in Brussels last week. Therefore, the prime motivation is not a clash between the AKP’s values and its EU vision with that of the EPP. 

Çavuşoğlu is also quoted saying the AKP is not sending a wrong signal. Well, he can speak for himself. But those at the receiving end of the signals are not thinking like him. The decision was perceived negatively among European circles, a Turkish observer of European affairs told me. The AECR is known to be anti-federalist, which is literally taken as anti-EU. “This is creating confusion. They are asking why a country willing to become an EU member is joining such a bloc,” he said. 

Observers agree this will give additional ammunition to the anti-Turkey bloc in the EU. “This will confirm the suspicions that Turkey is not willing to enter the EU in its current form, but rather into a watered down Europe,” an EU diplomat told me. 

It is no coincidence the biggest group within the AECR is made of the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservatives. “The U.K. is more open to Turkey’s EU integration than other EU countries, as an aim of the Tories is to dilute the EU into a looser group of heterogeneous member states,” reads an article in Euractive about the AKP’s decision.

As the U.K. is largely seen to be trying to dilute the EU, Turkey will now be seen as joining hands with the Brits.

In addition, AECR is a marginal party and Turkey needs the support of the mainstream parties if it wants to become a member of the EU. This decision carries the potential of upsetting those within the EPP who have been supportive of the Turkish bid. The EPP’s Dutch member Ria Oomen-Ruijeten, Turkey’s rapporteur for the European Parliament, is known to be a fervent supporter of the AKP. She even seems to be shocked by the decision. “Is that the right path to the EU membership target? Is the AKP aware of the message it is giving by becoming a member of AECR,” she asked in an interview with Hürriyet.

The tragicomedy is that Çavuşoğlu, who claimed the AKP is not giving the wrong signals, has been awarded the post of bone for the four vice presidencies in the AECR. The bright career potential of this honorable position seems to have blinded his vision.