Turkey cutting lose from the EU

Turkey cutting lose from the EU

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once a staunch supporter of the EU criteria, is now telling the EU to mind its own business.

He once carried the ambition to raise Turkey’s standards economically and politically, but lately he has become more of a Putin – although I know this is not fair to the Russian president. In the first speech he delivered as president earlier this year, Erdoğan said the “New Turkey” would concentrate on EU talks. However, Erdoğan then boasted of an “Ankara criteria” that he would put in place of the “Copenhagen criteria,” and we can now see that what he meant by this by looking at recent legislation.

While Erdoğan is defending these steps against European institutions that say there is a decline in democracy and liberties in Turkey, he tirades like the head of a self-confident sovereign state. As if the U.K., France or the Netherlands are not sovereign states. As if Europe’s driving force, Germany, is a loser that hands over some it its powers to the European Commission.

The EU has “curb” and “encouragement” mechanisms; one protects the standards, while the other encourages raising the standards. If you are setting up a partnership with the EU, both of these mechanisms step in to do their business. These mechanisms try to keep you within the corridor of the criteria and standards that you have already accepted in advance.

What makes the EU a success story is not its dictation, but rather its negotiating and reconciling culture. There is no point in embracing the “national pride” and “independent foreign policy” rhetoric against the warnings of those who hate these features.

While Erdoğan is pounding the EU, he is also asking what it has done in Syria, Egypt and Palestine. The hand Erdoğan is shaking while scolds the EU belongs to Putin, who has aborted Turkey’s revolution project in Syria and is also the person who rolled out the red carpet in front of the architect of the coup in Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Also, I do not know what it means to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) - which thinks of itself as the spokesperson of the Palestinian cause - for some EU members to recognize Palestinian statehood, as well as the European Parliament recently. Certain EU members succeed in making Israel much angrier without shouting like Erdoğan. 

The main issue is that there is no power present in the Middle East to question Erdoğan in terms of the law and human rights. The fact that the EU is stepping in as a curbing mechanism gets on his nerves.

Erdoğan is pursuing methods to eliminate all domestic break mechanisms, from the media to the judiciary, from the Parliament to inspection institutions. All this is to make his government untouchable and absolute. He is currently in the business of defaming mechanisms the he cannot get rid of, such as the Constitutional Court. While he is doing this, inevitably he hits out at the EU process that is binding him to the agreements and protocols Turkey has signed.

Erdoğan tells the EU to mind its own business, but the job of the European Commission - with the jurisdiction granted to it by Ankara - is exactly this: To monitor Turkey’s state of affairs. It was only possible to end the military tutelage, an achievement that Erdoğan is so proud of, with the EU stick.

The EU process, which Erdoğan has used as a shield since 2004 against the civilian and military bureaucracy, is now seen by him as an obstacle in front of his plans. The EU, meanwhile, which was not able to obtain any results with its regular break mechanisms, is at the brink of staging a more dramatic reaction.

“Recent police raids and the detention of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey call into question the respect for freedom of the media, which is a core principle of democracy,” EU ministers said in a statement in Brussels earlier this week. “Progress in accession negotiations depends on respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights.”

If this comes to such a critical enough point as to freeze the already deadlocked membership talks, then Turkey will be left alone with its domestic tensions. A bitter isolation process cannot be considered a good sign, neither for reforms nor for Turkey's economic direction.

In short, Erdoğan is creating an order that ties his fate to Turkey’s possible collapse. This is what is dangerous. Will Turkey’s economic, social and political dynamics, its extremely fragile ethnic and cultural fault lines, or its regional and international contexts,  withstand the system’s transformation into an “Erdoğan regime?” Where will that direction take Turkey?

The one-man ambition promises only clashes and destruction for the country. We are heading into a long, dark tunnel.