Erdoğan’s ‘Ankara Criteria’

Erdoğan’s ‘Ankara Criteria’

This year’s EU Progress Report on Turkey was bad enough, highlighting as it did that the government’s enthusiasm for democratic reform has run out. In fact, reading the report one gets the distinct impression of a country that is not moving forward but rather backward despite the occasional praise it gave for progress on some technical issues.

The EU report was followed by a report prepared by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that revealed equally bad results in terms of the country’s democratic image. The CPJ said that in Turkey there are currently 76 journalists in prison, at least 61 of them held for ‘‘their published work or newsgathering activities.”

The CPJ also points to a new and insidious ailment overtaking Turkish democracy, namely self-censorship due to pressure exerted by the government on media owners. In other words, the state of the media has turned into a litmus test of Turkish democracy, and Turkey is failing this test.

These developments also indicate that there is a widening gap between what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government understands as democracy and what this form of government represents for those who truly cherish it. As far as Erdoğan is concerned, his government continues to move the country in the direction of “advanced democracy.”

When this is disputed by pointing, for example, to the large number of journalists in prison, the government’s sharp response is that those people are in prison for activities other than journalism, which is of course belied not just by the CPJ, but also by Turkish media watchdog organizations.

From the perspective of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) it appears that gaining the majority of the votes in a general election is more than sufficient to claim that democracy is alive and kicking in the country.

In short, the argument that a free media is a litmus test for true democracy or that true democracy is determined by how the rights of those who did not vote for you are protected do not seem to be featured in the AKP’s world view.

Erdoğan has said on the record that even if the EU slams the door in Turkey’s face, Ankara will still adopt the “Copenhagen Criteria” – concerning advanced democracy – and implement these under the name of the “Ankara Criteria.”

President Abdullah Gül has stated many times that Turkey has to enact the reforms necessary for EU membership because it needs them for itself, whether it results in full membership in the union or not. Erdoğan’s reference to the “Ankara Criteria” was initially taken to mean much the same thing.

In other words, regardless of how standoffish the EU becomes, Turkey would continue to develop its democracy. Looking at how matters are unfolding, however, more and more people are coming to fear Erdoğan’s “Ankara Criteria” as it becomes clear that these are not based on the “Copenhagen Criteria” but on a set of subjective – and in many cases religious – values.

In the meantime, with “one out of every two votes” in its pocket, the government appears unperturbed by the dreadful report cards it is bringing home. This is more than apparent when the one minister who should be taking the EU’s Progress Report seriously brushes it aside.

What attracts attention here is that the AKP administration is not too worried about increasing criticism from the West concerning its democratic credentials. Many wonder now if this is because of the new ties the party is cultivating for Turkey with countries that have no time for democracy anyway.