The EU sends Turkey a very wrong message
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey on Oct. 18, only two weeks before the key parliamentary elections, was one of the most important diplomatic developments in regards to Ankara’s accession process to the European Union.
Merkel’s visit came only a few days after the Council of the European Union approved an action plan on how to cooperate with Turkey in dealing with its growing refugee problem. The plan envisaged to re-energize Turkey’s stalled accession negotiations by opening more chapters, to hasten the visa liberalization period for Turkish citizens and to take steps to share the burden of more than 2 million refugees, while in return the Turkish government would do its best to keep these refugees in its territories.
There is no question the refugee crisis is one of the top issues in the entire European continent with its economic, social and political dimensions. Around 7,000 refugees enter the European Union every day, making the size of the problem bigger with each passing day. Germany believes around one millions refugees will knock on its doors this year.
For Turkish officials, this deal with the EU was a clear indication that European officials and diplomats have understood at last Turkey’s significance as a partner in resolving the continent’s problems. “This is a change from tactical to strategic thinking. They now have a clearer image that they need Turkey in addressing many of their problems in their countries,” a senior Turkish official told me last week while commenting on the developments.
The fact the EU has come to this point is positive and encouraging for those who are true advocates of a democratic, pro-freedom Turkey. The EU becoming an anchor in Turkey’s democratization process is of vital importance and something that many pro-EU Turkish intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists were long looking for.
However, a sour development has happened at the same time: The European Commission postponed the release of the Progress Report once again, this time to the post-election period.
A senior Turkish official told me the postponement was not at Turkey’s request and the move came upon the commission’s decision in order to not influence the political process. European officials confirmed this as well.
It is obvious Brussels did not want to influence ongoing negotiations with the Turkish government over what they call a “burning issue,” but they are not aware how wrong the message they conveyed to Ankara is.
This is wrong because the EU places itself at a position where it can bargain over the union’s fundamental values for its strategic objectives. At a moment when Turkey’s record in the implementation of basic freedoms has hit new lows, the EU’s decision to postpone its report is unexplainable.
They can be quite sure that this move of theirs will degrade the effect and influence of the report and their future “we are seriously concerned” sort of statements in the face of future violations and restrictions of freedom of expression, of assembly and of press in Turkey.
The word “strategic” prevailed once again before fundamental rights and freedoms, this time at the hands of the European Union.