Euro-monitoring of Turkey or the Turkish government?

Euro-monitoring of Turkey or the Turkish government?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reintroduced a monitoring process for Turkey on April 25, citing “serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions.”

Some 113 members of the 324-member PACE voted in favor of the report, titled “The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Turkey,” while 45 members voted against it and 12 abstained.

The vote pushed Turkey down to a level of democracy where it has to be monitored by others, the same category as the former Eastern Bloc countries Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. 

Turkey is a NATO member and remains a candidate for European Union membership. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government is furious about the PACE vote, saying it will only “serve the interests of terrorist organizations” working against Turkey, including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen (or FETÖ, as the government calls). Gülen is a U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the foiled July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. 

The result is certainly saddening for Turkey and the Turkish people. As one of the founding members of the Council of Europe (CoE), the vote means Turkey has unfortunately become the first country ever to be taken under monitoring because of the quality of its democracy for a second time.

The monitoring mechanism was introduced into the CoE following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1992, in an attempt to encourage the development of democratic institutions in former Soviet states. All the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe were taken under monitoring. In 1996, during another peak in the fight against the PKK - when unsolved murders were on the rise, when the elected government (headed by Necmettin Erbakan) was under military pressure, and when Turkey’s relations with neighbors including NATO-member Greece were deteriorating - Turkey was also added to the monitoring list.

It was humiliating then, but not as bad as the second time. 

Turkey had been cleared from the list in 2004. That was thanks to the democratic reforms and nine constitutional amendments - including the abolition of the death penalty - carried out by the new AK Parti government with the help of the social democratic opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) following a political reset after the 2002 election.

Not only the CoE, also the EU and the U.S. were ready to give credit to the AK Parti government for improving the quality of democracy in Turkey. The idea of achieving a European-style democracy and economy was written into the program of the AK Parti in its early manifestos. The AK Parti also stated that the political enthusiasm of the military was the only problem standing in front of a high-quality democracy in Turkey. Despite the fact that the AK Parti rejected the terminology of “moderate Islam” from day one, the party was also seen as a test case for this Western thesis.

Long before Turkey’s June 2015 election, discord had already started to surface because of the Syrian civil war and the struggle against terrorism. But the indirect dialogue process with the PKK, which had halted bloodshed after 2012, was a major factor in keeping flagging hopes up.

However, democratic rights started to lose ground rapid with the end of the dialogue process after that June 2015 election, which saw the AK Parti lose its parliamentary majority, the PKK resuming acts of terror, and the government retaliate massively against the PKK in the east and the southeast. Also crucial was the rising threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAESH, and the increase in ISIL attacks in Turkey.

The military coup attempt of July 2016 was another key turning point. While most people had thought that the era of military coups was over in Turkey, a coup attempt inspired by a shadowy Islamist network took place, upending every last remaining balance in the country.

The state of emergency imposed after the coup, the mass arrests and dismissals from public jobs, and the confiscation of properties in the name of struggling against terrorism were all followed by a referendum pushed by the AK Parti to consolidate all executive power in the hands of the president, as President Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting for at least 10 years.

The April 16 referendum brought a narrow win for Erdoğan, though there is an ongoing debate over allegations of  irregularity.

Now comes the CoE’s vote to reimpose monitoring of Turkish democracy, which was followed by the EU’s enlargement chief, Johannes Hahn, saying that Brussels “must now come to a decision” about Turkey.

Neither the CoE vote nor Ankara’s possible alienation from the EU are likely to improve things in Turkey. In fact, they are only more likely to agitate the government and give weight to its anti-West, anti-Europe campaign.

In seems clear that the vote will not encourage the AK Parti to acknowledge that Turkey’s return to the CoE monitoring list could be interpreted as a sign that the government’s credit has finally expired in the West.

What’s more, those others who believe in achieving a high-quality democracy in Turkey - including fair elections, checks and balances, independent courts and a free media – will only smile at the hypocritical “We’re doing this for Turkish democracy” waffle by European politicians, who think that pushing away is a form of solidarity. Those in Turkey who believe in democracy will continue to walk alone.