The EU’s wonderful gift to Erdoğan

The EU’s wonderful gift to Erdoğan

It has to be seen if Sunday’s EU-Turkey Summit, and the “Action Plan” it produced, re-energizes stalled ties and resuscitates Ankara’s membership talks. There have been too many false starts and broken promises on both sides in the past. It is useful, therefore, to keep a pinch of salt handy.  

What is clear, however, is that Europe gave President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu a wonderful present they could not have dreamt of just a few months ago. No doubt they will use this to the hilt in domestic politics against their critics who have been arguing that their Islamist-based policies have driven Europe away from Turkey.

The highly positive tone toward Turkey on the EU side in Brussels – born of necessity due to the refugee crisis, rather than being the product of love – has to be noted, though, for its lack of emphasis on the growing democratic deficit in Turkey, especially in connection to the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.

The summit was held against the backdrop of the arrest of Can Dündar, daily Cumhuriyet’s highly respected editor-in-chief, and Erdem Gül, the paper’s Ankara representative, who also happens to be one of the most reliable journalists in the nation’s capital. 

They were just the latest journalists to be hounded by the authorities. Both are in prison for simply doing their job and informing the public of the illegal actions of the authorities, which the independent press in any democracy does. 

This summit was also held as the funeral of Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and peace activist, was taking place in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır. 

Elçi was killed in highly suspicious circumstances after he expressed his opinion that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was not a terrorist organization. He was under investigation for his remarks, and had already received many death threats.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made weak references to continuing disagreements with Ankara on issues like freedom of the press, but his remarks, which came almost as an afterthought, were not strong enough to ruffle any feathers in Ankara. 

The Erdoğan camp is, of course, delighted over this turn of events. “Europe will focus on real issues now, and not on artificial ones like the freedom of the press, which at any rate is as good in Turkey as it is anywhere in Europe,” one pro-Erdoğan commentator argued during a debate on a pro-government channel.

Davutoğlu did not return from Brussels totally empty-handed either. He got the promise of 3 billion euros for, to put it simply, keeping the refugees in Turkey and preventing them from going to Europe. 

He also got the promise that Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policies will be opened in the Turkey-EU membership talks. 

Much more significantly for Turks, though, he got the promise of a visa waiver for Turks traveling to Europe, provided certain criteria are met by 2016.

Erdoğan’s spin-doctors are already arguing that EU doors have been opened to Turkey, and saying membership is not far off, thanks to Erdoğan and the AKP. Davutoğlu, for his part, said after the summit that “Turks are a European nation and want to be a member of the European family.” 

It is true that a significant portion of the population feels itself to be European in terms of outlook, lifestyle and values, but it is questionable that most of the people who voted for the AKP and who support Erdoğan do so. 

It is equally questionable that Erdoğan considers himself to be European given his by now well-known distaste for all things Western. 

But none of this is important for EU leaders today. They merely want Turkey to fish them out of their refugee debacle, and are willing not only to cough up some money for this, but to also overlook Ankara’s blatant violations of the “Copenhagen Criteria.” 

“C’est la vie,” as the French would say.