Turkey's democratic deficit high on German president’s agenda

Turkey's democratic deficit high on German president’s agenda

Some conservative journalists had told the German president to give this message to Turkey: “We do not want this kind of Turkey in the European Union.”

What they mean by “this kind” of Turkey is obviously a country where there is serious backpedalling on democratic norms such as the erosion of the principle of the separation of powers, or the restrictions on freedom of speech through the YouTube and Twitter bans.

I’d like to tell my German colleagues that I also don’t want this kind of Turkey, let alone see it enter the EU like this.

Thank God, German President Joachim Gauck did not endorse this advice on his official visit to Ankara. Not only would such a message not have any positive impact on Turkey, on the contrary it would even have had a counterproductive effect.

But that does not mean that the anti-democratic developments that have been taking place in Turkey were not high on Gauck’s agenda. On the contrary. I was among the half-a-dozen journalists and academicians who met him in Ankara just before his official talks with the Turkish leadership. He did not request this meeting to pass on a message, but rather to try to understand the complexities of this country. His questions showed that not only were democracy and human rights issues high on his agenda, but also that there is now discernible concern about the direction Turkey is heading.

Actually, the fact that he was not accompanied by German businesspeople was also telling. When I asked whether he usually takes the representatives of the German business community with him on his official visits abroad, I was told by German diplomats that it depended on the country. When he went to India recently, for instance, he was accompanied by a business delegation.

There were ample other signs that U-turns on Turkey’s democratic gains were high on his agenda. Not only his speech, but the fact that he chose the Middle East Technical University to give it in carried a message in itself. The university has been repeatedly targeted for criticism by the government in the past.

Indeed, it is high time for Turkey’s friends to show solidarity with those who have been ringing alarm bells about the widening democratic deficit in the country. For years, European capitals remained silent to serious violations of human rights, as economic investment opportunities outweighed concerns about Turkey’s democratic standards. It was interesting to hear a European politician recently telling me the following: “In the past we made a mistake with former candidates to the EU to negotiate economic competitiveness. But the EU is not only about the economy, it is above all a community of values, and we need to make sure that those values are endorsed by candidates.”

This is fine. But the next thing you hear, and this is very much “a la mode” these days, is that “we want to open negotiations for Chapters 23 and 24 of Turkey’s accession talks.” These chapters pertain to issues like the independence of justice in the country. You hear this line often from the French, and now the Germans have joined them. Again, this is fine, and in fact the Turkish government has no objection to it. The problem is that they are sending this message to the wrong address, as it is the Greek Cypriots who are blocking the talks on these chapters. If we are going to wait for a solution to be reached in Cyprus for Greek Cypriots to lift their veto, then I am afraid we will wait for quite a long time to start a meaningful dialogue between Turkey and the EU on democracy and human rights standards.