Turkish - EU relations hitting another bottom

Turkish - EU relations hitting another bottom

Actually, statements criticizing the Turkish government because of its attitude against Taksim protesters and the media are not only coming from European bodies, there have been strong statements for two weeks from the United States and the United Nations, too.

However, a vote by the European Parliament (EP) yesterday, which came hours after a statement by Catherine Ashton, the foreign and defense policy chief of the European Union Commission, made Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan explode. “I do not recognize their decision,” he said, “Turkey is not even a member of the EU.” Erdoğan asked why the EU bodies did not condemn British police since they dragged the protesters on pavements, or the police of other EU countries behaving in the same way.

The EP statement was unusually bitter, asking the government to stop using excessive force to disperse protesters, to stop putting pressure on the media (using the phrase “censorship”). Soon after Erdoğan, Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış slammed the EP statement. He said “some European politicians” were using their “rights to talk nonsense.” Then, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu put himself in front of cameras, accusing the EU of having “double standards” when the issue was Turkey, Davutoğlu said Ankara categorically rejected the statement.

It is true that the EP decision has no executive results, however, it reflects the political understanding in the European capitals regarding the Turkish political atmosphere.

Turkish-EU relations have been problematic for over half a decade now. From 2002-2004, Turkey took reformist steps to harmonize its legislation with the EU under Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule, with the help of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). But when the EU admitted the membership of the Greek-run Republic of Cyprus as also representing the breakaway Turks living in the north of the island - despite a U.N. referendum in which Turks voted for reunification, whereas Greeks voted against - relations between Ankara and Brussels started to deteriorate. Negotiation chapters with Turkey are blocked by members like Greek Cyprus and France.

The weird thing is that neither Turkey nor the EU are breaking up this painful relationship, because of its strategic and economic value. Plus the EU governments have given a large credit to Erdoğan’s AK Party rule because of a series of democratization steps, especially in the field of pushing the military out of the political game. But it seems the government stance against the Taksim protesters, most of whom are concerned about losing their modernist and secular way of life, alerted Europe regarding the future of Turkey and the relations between them.

However, this relationship is too valuable both for Turkey and for the EU, to be spent away, for political, economical, cultural and historical reasons. The good scenario is for a peaceful end to the Taksim protests, bringing about a more tolerant and democratic political atmosphere to Turkey. Nobody wants to think about a bad scenario nowadays.