PACE should save Turkey’s Europeanization process

PACE should save Turkey’s Europeanization process

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likes to say “the world is greater than five,” referring to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC.) Many of us would agree with him, as the UNSC’s makeup really is Orwellian. “All nations are equal. But some nations are more equal than others,” it basically says. 

That relates to the lesson of the April 16 referendum in Turkey. Even the most ardent skeptics learned that night that the country is greater than any one person. Our Western friends especially have a hard time with this idea sometimes. They are all too happy to focus their lenses on the big man on stage, effectively accepting his rhetoric that the whole country really is behind him. Yet there is a clear divide emerging now: The most urbane and educated Turks voted against the constitutional amendment. They now have the confidence of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other half of the country’s population.

Yes, the constitutional amendments that Erdoğan proposed were approved in the referendum. However, despite the 61.9 percent size of the “Yes” bloc - made up of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - the package was accepted only by a narrow margin. The AK Party and the MHP combined could only garner 51.4 percent of the vote. According to early estimates by the TEPAV think tank, based on an ecological inference model, effectively 5.1 million votes shifted from “Yes” to “No,” including 1.2 million AK Party voters. Ecological inference is a data-mining tool. It is a probability-based process of extracting clues about individual behavior from information reported at the aggregate level. 

The messages that came from European capitals after the result positively surprised me. Martin Schultz of the German Social Democratic Party and Johannes Hahn of the European Commission tuned right in after the referendum. They seemed to understand the significance of the vote, and their words suggested that they see Turkey for what it is, beyond its president. That is heartening. 

Yet actions speak louder than words, and EU-Turkey relations need action. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is finally going to have its postponed Turkey meeting on April 25. The meeting had originally been scheduled for January, and was meant to discuss the PACE report titled “The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Turkey.” The report analyzed the impact of the State of Emergency a la Turca (SoE-T, a term coined by yours truly) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey. The meeting was postponed after Ankara announced that it would establish an administrative commission to investigate wrongdoings in purges under the SoE-T. Due to that postponement, PACE now has the Venice Commission report on the constitutional amendments package and the preliminary OSCE report on international referendum observation to consider too. 

Now is the time to restart engagement with Turkey. Now is also the time for Turkey to show that it means business. Action, not words. But what if PACE decides next week that Turkey does not comply with the Copenhagen Criteria and puts Turkey on a monitoring/watch list, jeopardizing the May summit with Turkey, as well as Ankara’s Customs Union talks with the European Commission? Turkish politicians would be up in arms, burning whatever bridges remain. Similarly, what if Turkey shows no sign of opting for an inclusive system of government by taking the European Council as a direct partner, and does nothing to deal with the weird Higher Election Board decision regarding unstamped ballots? That would also be bad for the engagement process. 

What is most important here is that the PACE meeting does not derail the Europeanization of Turkey. Europe cannot forget that half of Turkey’s electorate, representing about 40 million people, voted “No” in the referendum. A large chunk of Turkey is a natural extension of Europe. Regardless of their differences, striving toward European standards of governance remains a common expressed denominator among Turkey’s political factions on either side of this referendum. The EU should continue to strengthen this basis, not pull it away from under Turkey’s feet.