Will the EU stay true to its own principles?

Will the EU stay true to its own principles?

The EU lost credibility in 2004 for most Turks when it admitted Cyprus (meaning Greek Cyprus) as a full member, despite the overwhelming rejection by Greek Cypriots of the so called “Annan Plan,” which was the best blueprint–regardless of its shortcomings—for a solution to this problem until then.

Cyprus under this arrangement would join the EU as a unified country and the advantage of membership would bring the estranged sides closer, as they lived in separate communities but under one flag and one administration based on democratic power sharing.

The plan was also supported by the EU, which worked hard to make it succeed. That was not to be, though; but not because of the supposedly “intransigent Turkish Cypriots,” who overwhelmingly supported the plan in a referendum, but because the Greek Cypriots decided they wanted nothing to do with it.

Neither were they afraid that this would prevent EU membership and were justified in this belief. Although it had scuttled the chance for a solution, the Greek Cypriot side was still admitted as a full EU member.

The whole debacle forced Günter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement who had pushed hard for the Annan Plan to work, to deliver an angry address to the European Parliament castigating the Greek Cypriots.

Even in the eyes of pro-western Turkish liberals, though, the EU emerged then as an unprincipled and unreliable union supposedly built on high principles, but in fact was motivated only by hard-core material interests, phobias and prejudices.

This became clearer after Germany and France revealed their true positions regarding EU membership for Turkey. Maintaining membership talks was nevertheless a necessary pretense required by practical considerations. 

This also continued to energize democratic forces in Turkey to an extent. Former President Abdullah Gül is on record for frequently saying while in office that what is important is to attain the democratic standards of the EU and not necessarily membership. Continuing membership talks, for Gül, was necessary for this, if nothing else.

Today however, the “locomotive” quality of the EU for Turkey’s democracy is all but lost and the EU is mainly responsible for this. Take what is transpiring in member states, let alone in Turkey.

In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party, a name that rings somewhat familiar with Turks, is trying to coopt the independent judiciary and restrict the free press.

It forced a bill through both chambers of the parliament, which, if adopted, will enable the government to fill Poland’s Supreme Court with its hand-picked allies.  Analysts say the Law and Justice Party sees the judiciary as infested with crypto-communists and liberals subordinated to foreign forces. This is all too familiar for democratic Turks.

Meanwhile Freedom House has downgrade Poland’s status regarding the media from “Free” to “Partly Free,” by citing “government intolerance toward independent or critical reporting.” This too rings all too familiar for democratic Turks.

The EU has so far been unsuccessful in bringing Poland back in line with regard to EU principles. The anti-democratic trend in Poland exists in other member states too, another notable case being Hungary.

The financial crises, followed by the refugee crisis, has revealed the not-so-pretty face of Europe once again, showing everyone the extent to which nationalism, self-interest, xenophobia and racism are alive and kicking in a continent that should have learnt the lessons of history.

How the EU deals with this situation will not only determine its future as a union, but also if it has any moral clout left with regard to democracy and human rights. Whether it can overcome its own contradictions or not will also determine the extent to which the EU will have any sway over an administration in Turkey, which it clearly loathes.