Who is Europe punishing in Turkey? The rulers or ordinary citizens?

Who is Europe punishing in Turkey? The rulers or ordinary citizens?

It took years for Galatasaray University to partner with University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne to introduce a program that would enable students going to the former to also have a diploma from the latter.

The dual diploma program, which started in 2012, was abruptly ended a couple of months ago by the senate of the University of Paris 1.

It seems the decision came as a reaction to the deteriorating situation of the academics in Turkey.

Indeed, mass firings of academics with emergency decrees has taken place during the state of emergency that was declared following the coup attempt in July 2016. In the meantime, a group of academics have been prosecuted and sentenced for having signed a 2016 petition calling for peace in the country’s southeast where clashes erupted between the illegal PKK and the state following the collapse of a peace process.

The university’s decision came against this backdrop.

At first glance one could only find this natural, seeing it as a sign of solidarity with Turkish academics.

But those who have made this decision should have made a more careful analysis of the impact of their decision and whether the decision would bring about the desired outcome.

Was the intention to punish Turks, Turkey, the Turkish state, Turkish prosecutors or Turkish judges? Was that decision effective in making change in developments in Turkey, to reverse the democratic backpedaling?

The only ones that would have been punished would have been the French-speaking students.

It seems the university’s senate has consulted with neither the economics department of their own university nor with their interlocutors at Galatasaray University.

Making a decision without consulting the affected party and without asking whether this decision will be to the interest of the academics in Turkey was not exactly a wise move.

Fortunately, the decision was reversed thanks also to the efforts of the French diplomatic mission in Turkey.

Just as I heard about the decision of the senate, news came that a prominent professor from Galatasaray University, Füsun Üstel (another signatory), went to prison on May 8 as her 15-month sentence was upheld by the Court of Appeals.  This news was followed a few days later by the arrest of a Turkish-French academic Ahmet Tuna Altınel.

All this should not make the Senate regret its decision. I cannot dare to speak on their behalf, but I have the feeling that most of the academics would not have approved of the initial decision of the Senate.

This brings me to the issue of Turkey’s relations with the EU. Membership talks with the EU have stopped, and as long Turkey does not go back to a reform agenda, especially on the political front, accession negotiations cannot be expected to resume. At any rate, the membership perspective is a toxic issue with the current political climate in Europe.

The process to update Turkey – EU customs union on the other hand is being a victim of the phenomenon of which comes first: Chicken or egg? European capitals think they can force Ankara to reverse some of the undemocratic practices by giving a green light to start modernization talks only after Ankara gives signs of change. So far this has not yielded any result.

How about changing perspective? Starting talks and forcing a change via the talks? The modernization of the customs union is not just about intensifying commerce between the two sides, it is also about getting back Turkey to rule-based governance. It will force Turkey to become more transparent especially in terms of state aids and public procurements. After all, the transparency and accountability of how taxpayers’ money is spent lay also at the heart of democratic governance. Starting modernization talks is not a reward to Turkey’s rulers; while but not starting these talks becomes a  punishment not for the government but also for the Turkish society, especially those in favor of stronger ties with Europe.

Despite the gains of the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration far right, pro-European Greens and Liberals have also performed well in the European Parliament elections. So selling the idea of starting the customs union modernization might not be such a difficult sell especially since that process can be seen as decoupled from membership talks.

Barçın Yinanç,