Is the crisis with the EU over?
No, it is not over yet. It is true that the fire has been put off, thanks to the busy diplomatic traffic carried out by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu over the last few days. However, as announced by Davutoğlu himself right after a final telephone call with German Foreign Minister Guidio Westerwelle, the outcome can be interpreted as follows: The EU agreed not to block the opening of the 22nd chapter on “Regional Policies,” which is good, but it also linked it to voting by the 27 member states following Turkey’s Progress Report, which is released in the fall. This means that Brussels expects Ankara to take some additional steps to enhance freedoms, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly in particular. Those two issues were particularly mentioned by U.S. President Barack Obama during his telephone call with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan on June 24.
There is another timing detail regarding the actual beginning of the talks on Chapter 22 (it really sounds like “Catch 22,” doesn’t it?). It will be after the German elections (and these are on Sept. 22) are over. This puts a de facto condition on Turkish government figures to be careful in their comments on the German elections. As can be recalled, the last crisis was triggered when German Chancellor Angela Merkel got upset about a sarcastic remark made by Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış, which linked her attitude to the upcoming German elections. The German media made it clear, and not only in polite phrases, that the Bağış sarcasm was the main reason why the Turkish ambassador in Berlin was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry. It certainly led to some more sleepless nights for Davutoğlu to put things on track.
Perhaps that is why, as soon as he was able to put this unnecessary fire off, without waiting for Bağış’s briefing to the EU ambassadors in Ankara about the Taksim wave of protests, Davutoğlu made the announcement in Parliament and joined Prime Minister Erdoğan in his address to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group.
Erdoğan is likely to be under more pressure regarding the consequences of the Taksim protests now because of this crisis with EU. In the AK Parti group meeting, he said no one could “tell him which government official to fire” (such as the governor or police chief of Istanbul) and repeated that he would never step back. On the other hand, it is clear that more than one reform package is expected - both inside and outside Turkey - from him. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan had already signaled a fifth judicial package for this year, but after Taksim it may have to suggest more freedoms in practice, too. Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General for the Council of Europe who met with Erdoğan in Ankara yesterday, later on told the Hürriyet Daily News that a change in mentality of police and judiciary was necessary.
And there is the Kurdish issue, too. Erdoğan is expected to hold a meeting today with the “wise people” commission (two liberal-leftist academics resigned from it due to the Taksim events). The meeting will put an end to his campaign to convince people of the merits of the dialogue initiative and to start working on a legal package as the start of “Phase II,” following the withdrawal of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants from Turkey to their bases in Iraq.
Did it occur to you as well that the Obama-Erdoğan phone call was right after statements and pictures released by a news agency about U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone’s recent visit to Hakkari, which borders Iraq and Iran, giving support to Turkey’s Kurdish process? On the trip he had to stop on top of a mountain to get a burst tire repaired, but his message was clear: Everything was on due course on that front. On both the European front and on the democratization front a long and hot summer lies ahead for Erdoğan, as well as on the Kurdish front. So, to repeat the answer: No. No crisis is totally over yet.