Ups and downs in EU-Turkish relations

Ups and downs in EU-Turkish relations

The European Union summit yesterday ended with no agreement on a new charter for a revised impetus to carry on the economically shaken union. Masterminded mainly by Britain, members like Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic acted together with Britain in resisting the draft to rearrange the financial system. So the 27-member union added a 23-member financial system to its already existing 17-member eurozone. Britain was keen to protect its national interest against the uncertainties of the supranational EU in hard times of economic crisis. And Hungary might be taking revenge on Germany and France (doing everything possible to save the non-producing economies in Greece and Portugal today) who did nothing to help them during the 2008 crisis.

At this crucial crossroad, Turkey’s membership was perhaps among the least important items on the EU Council’s agenda. Leaders simply approved their foreign ministers’ draft at the General Affairs Committee on Dec. 5 on enlargement and neighborhood affairs, which included Turkey’s position as well. So, good news for Croatia’s membership and hints for Serbia, while Turkey got a lot of criticism and counseling. It seems last-minute efforts by Ankara to soften the language did not change much.
There are some important points that can make the Turkish government happy. For example, more civilian control over security forces, judicial reforms, commitments for freedom of religion and ratification of a U.N. torture protocol are praised.

It is also important to observe the EU gave full support to Turkey’s fight against terrorism by reiterating its denouncing of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization, with no mention at all about the alleged PKK front Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) probes.

But, the EU Council placed particular emphasis on the need of improvement in freedom of expression and media freedoms in Turkey. The report said, “The restrictions in practice on the freedom of the media, the large number of legal cases launched against writers, journalists, academics, human rights defenders and frequent website bans, all raise serious concerns that need to be addressed.” The EU also addressed “freedom of religion, property rights, trade union rights, anti-discrimination and gender equality and fight against torture and ill-treatment.”

The council placed special emphasis on Ankara’s statements to freeze relations with the EU presidency under the Greek Cypriot government during the second half of 2012; it seems it will continue to be the biggest problem in relations.

On the other hand, highlighting Turkey’s role as “an important regional player in the Middle East, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Southern Caucasus and the Horn of Africa,” the EU asks for closer cooperation in parallel with the EU line, when there is one.

The problem here is the EU, which is asking for more with no rewards for Turkey, is losing its leverage on the matters it criticizes, which are important for further improvement of democracy in Turkey. This relationship in fact needs good counseling for the sake of all parties.