EU reforms becoming anti-democratic tools in the hands of AKP

EU reforms becoming anti-democratic tools in the hands of AKP

Turkey’s first quarter economic data surprised the World Bank's Turkey director.

“We did not expect growth to maintain such momentum and we were encouraged by the strong performance of net exports,” Martin Raiser told me in the interview we conducted recently.

“What does it tell us about Turkey?” I asked him. “It reminds us that Turkey is a part of Europe economically, and as Europe recovers Turkey does as well,” he answered.

When Europe is not doing so well, we tend to forget how important it is for Turkey that Europe does well, he went on to say.

I could not agree more. Some ministers mocked Europe’s poor performance when Turkey’s economic ship was filled with winds from other markets, such as the Middle East. That was when Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was enjoying a honeymoon-like relationship with the Arab world.

It is no longer the case; the winds blowing from the Middle East have stopped and economically, Europe could be a life saver.

No one would argue that we should be totally dependent on Europe. Diversification is a must. But as I was recently reminded by a foreign diplomat, Turkey sells nothing to the emerging markets in the Far East, and the Middle East is in a deep crisis affecting our trade routes. That should teach us a lesson about refraining from hubris in our relations with Europe.

Being anchored to Europe is important not only economically, but politically as well. This especially the case now that Turkey’s system of checks and balances, as well as the institutions that secure that system, would be in jeopardy if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were elected president.

“When there is prolonged one-man rule, this often comes at the expense of the institutions,” a foreign diplomat who served in countries east of Turkey also told me.

Ever since he was elected for the third time, Prime Minister Erdoğan has become very vocal about his dislike of the “separation of powers,” which is at the center of checks and balances. Interestingly, the EU reforms - which during the first half of the "AKP decade" were so incremental in boosting the support for the government - became little more than a sugar coating for legal amendments toward one-man rule.

“Every time the government talks about doing something for the EU reforms, this is what we should understand. First, they make amendments that look like they are being done in order to reach European standards. But then they keep amending the initial amendment, which ends up looking to have nothing to do with EU standards,” a lawyer told me recently.

Look at the judiciary. Everything that was done “with the argument of EU reforms” seems to have been reversed.

I expect the democratic backpedalling will not go unnoticed, once the summer is over. When the presidential elections are over in Turkey, the EU should become a more serious watchdog over Turkish institutions.

Deteriorating regional developments should show the wise men and women in Europe the importance of a stable Turkey. And stability cannot come at the expense of fundamental institutions in Turkey.