Does Europe’s future really include Turkey?

Does Europe’s future really include Turkey?

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was reported saying, in his televised speech to the nation on Saturday, that Europe’s future “will not be written without Turkey.” One assumes he means that Turkey is an essential part of Europe and will remain so.

The semi-official Anadolu News Agency also reported Davutoğlu pointing to the obstacles in Turkey’s EU membership and saying that those adopting anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish stances would not be able to overshadow either historical realities or Turkey’s willpower.

Davutoğlu was pointing in this way to religious and cultural factors being strewn on Turkey’s EU path as obstacles. It appears from his remarks that he sees this is a one-way street in which all the obstacles are on the European side.

He was not reported saying anything to do with upholding the most basic tenets of democracy, including freedom of expression and freedom of speech, or defending an independent judiciary and the rule of law, which are also hallmarks of advanced democracies.

Not much needs to be said about Islamophobia in Europe and the anti-Turkish sentiments it feeds today. The debate about this phenomenon is alive in Europe, especially after the recent attacks in Paris. 

This is a problem that exists and which Europe will have to deal with, not for the sake of Turkey as an EU candidate country, but because of the millions of Europeans who are Muslims, and who will obviously not be disappearing simply because the right wing in Europe wants this to happen. 

What Davutoğlu said is therefore truer with regards to these Muslims, than it is with regards to Turkey. The future of Europe will clearly not be written without Muslims. There is however a very real chance that it might be written without Turkey, which today, under the outlook represented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, appears further away from its European vocation than at any time in the past.

It is, after all, Erdoğan who is asking Russian President Vladimir Putin, his fellow anti-European, to admit Turkey into the Shanghai Five so that it can dump the EU. This alone shows he is less than enamored by values to do with democracy and human rights, which are universal today but have their origins in the Europe much despised by him.

Given Erdoğan’s blatantly authoritarian tendencies, and his majoritarian understanding of democracy, rather than the pluralistic understanding that is valid in advanced democracies, it is not clear how Davutoğlu will ensure that “Europe’s future is not written without Turkey,” provided, of course, he means this in the positive, and not the negative sense.

Given Erdoğan’s self-avowed intentions for the future, in which he is the sole leader of a country whose powers rest on the ballot box, unconstrained by any checks or balances, Turkey is clearly going to drift further from Europe for the duration that he remains in power. 

There is clearly no place in Europe for a Turkey that seems more determined to limit freedoms than to expand them. The same applies for a Turkey where corruption allegations against members of the ruling party are officially buried by means of a co-opted judiciary.

Europe is far from perfect, and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters like to highlight its deficiencies with relish in their thinly disguised attempt to exonerate Turkey of its much more serious and significant shortcomings. 

But the values that Europe aspires to and what it has achieved over the past 70 years in overcoming its shortcomings are clear. Nothing today is clear, however, about Turkey’s direction if the core values we are talking about are those that pertain to true democracy. One cannot help wonder, therefore, if Europe’s future really includes Turkey, as Davutoğlu claims.