CHP can play a key role in avoiding Turkey-EU row

CHP can play a key role in avoiding Turkey-EU row

Last week was a very busy week in Ankara, with around a dozen senior foreign visitors flocking to the capital to express solidarity with the Turkish government following the deadly coup attempt of July 15. Foreign ministers from a number of European countries, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and other lower-ranking officials from other countries met their Turkish counterparts and visited the parliament building to see the damage caused by coup-plotters warplanes with their own eyes. 

Among the visitors was a delegation from the EU Commission, including European Parliament Rapporteur Kati Piri and European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Elmar Brok. At a special session on post-coup developments in Turkey at the European Parliament on Aug. 30, both Piri and Brok implied that they underestimated the coup attempt. 

“Turkey has gone through a shock. There are indications that since 2013, the Gülen movement was put into motion more than was realized. This group has over the decades developed the style of a secret alliance,” said Brok. 

However, MPs from the European Parliament also drew attention to the ongoing purges and detentions of tens of thousands of people, urging that the handling of the aftermath of the coup attempt set a crucial test for Turkey’s democracy. 

The upcoming days will witness more such visits to Turkey. European Parliament President Martin Schultz will be in Turkey on Sept. 1, on the same day as Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) President Pedro Agramunt and EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopulos. 

EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn will also be in Ankara on Sept. 9, nearly two months after Gülenists within the army staged their coup attempt.  

However late, all these visits are nevertheless important as part of mutual efforts to re-build dialogue and confidence between Ankara and Turkey.

It’s true that the measures taken by the Turkish government since the coup attempt have gone too far and created fresh concerns over the state of democracy and the rule of law in the country. 

As one diplomat recently told me: “You rightly hail the people’s reaction against the coup plotters on July 15 as important evidence of a maturing democracy. But in the aftermath of the coup we have observed a rapid degeneration of the notion of the rule of law in Turkey. Democracy and the rule of law must walk hand in hand.”

There is no doubt that the annual progress report on Ankara’s EU accession bid, to be announced by the European Commission in the coming months, will highlight this dilemma and will reiterate Brussels’ concerns about the state of fundamental freedoms in Turkey. Still, it should also be written in a balanced way to show that Europe does not underestimate the danger that Turkish democracy faced on July 15. 

That is why all these visits play a crucial role in creating new bridges between Turkish and European politicians and helping to avoid new sources of tension. These efforts should also include more cautious public statements, especially on the Turkish side, as being champions in the league of Europe-bashing rhetoric will not to work to anyone’s benefit. 

In that regard, Ankara should show with concrete actions that it values genuine criticisms from both Turkish opposition parties and credible European politicians and institutions. It should lend a fair ear to what the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is saying, especially regarding ongoing purges and detentions of scores of people, journalists, civil servants and intellectuals who did not participate in the coup attempt. 

If the government does take these steps it will not only help the continuity of dialogue and conciliation among political parties inside Turkey, it will also provide an opportunity for it to correct some of its mistakes long before the EU and other European institutions make an issue of them.