Turkey, EU adopting a new language

Turkey, EU adopting a new language

Three weeks after he revealed Turkey’s new EU strategy, EU Minister Volkan Bozkır was again in Brussels on Oct. 16 and 17 to announce the new EU Communication Strategy and to hold talks with senior EU officials. His visit to Brussels came nearly a week after the Commission issued Turkey’s annual “progress report,” which he has described as “objective and balanced.”

Bozkır’s meetings with the EU’s outgoing Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, as well as other commissioners and members of the European Parliament, are being seen as the launch of a new language between the two sides. Bozkır made this clear in his address to the foreign committee of the European Parliament, which Greeks and Greek Cypriots - as well as other Turkey-skeptic parliament members - have long used as a platform to attack Turkey.

An experienced diplomat who has spent years dealing with EU affairs, Bozkır underlined that he will impose a new understanding in his communication with his European counterparts. Listening to each other, respecting criticisms and creating a mutual understanding will be the main pillars of this new approach, he said, stressing that “I’ll be doing my best to impose this atmosphere and not to have a damaging style.”

Unlike some other Turkish politicians, he was very tolerant in responding to strong-worded criticisms and questions from the group at the parliament, and at the same time he was brave enough to confess that banning Twitter was not right. He made this remark during his address to the Carnegie Endowment late on Oct. 16.

Kobane effect

A number of questions posed to Bozkır related to Turkey’s apparent inaction over Kobane, the northern Syrian town under the siege of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It seems  that Turkey has to do more to reverse the perception that it is totally idle when it comes to Syrian Kurds and that it tolerates ISIL’s actions in the region.

Bozkır’s replies to questions on Kobane were widely interpreted as attempting to downplay the situation, and therefore were not very helpful. “It’s like dealing with just one mosquito while the swamp produces more mosquitos. What we want is to dry the swamp,” he replied to one of the questions on Kobane and Syria.  

Among other issues that members of the European Parliament raised were the Turkish government’s impositions to curb judicial independence, to undermine the principle of the separation of powers, and to restrict freedom of the press and expression.

The European Parliament’s new Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri, was quite open in announcing that before she pens her own report she will closely monitor developments in two specific areas in Turkey: Judicial independence and freedom of expression. Piri recalled that the progress report issued by the Commission expressed serious concerns on these two specific issues, and reiterated that opening chapters 23 and 24, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, would be very helpful in accelerating the accession process.

“It’s our priority concern to have an independent, credible judiciary,” Bozkır said in response, adding that last Sunday’s vote for seats at the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) was proof that Turkish judges and prosecutors enjoyed full democracy and freedom in electing their representatives.

Impetus to be given to European Parliament agenda

Although concerns on judicial independence will not be removed overnight, Bozkır seemed determined to convince his counterparts that the Turkish government would continue its optimism over the EU through the upcoming period. Although the government under Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was formed less than two months ago, Bozkır’s EU Ministry could show a good performance by producing important documents and generating new strategies.

Bozkır is expected to announce the EU action plan to be pursued until the 2015 elections next week, and the one to be adopted between 2015 and 2019 at the end of November. He will seek the Cabinet’s approval for both plans while the Reform Action Group – formerly the Reform Monitoring Group - is set to come together on Nov. 12 to review reforms and the road map to be carried out in this period.

In addition, Minister Bozkır is aiming to develop a new understanding for cooperation with the European Commission, especially over the course of passing important legislation. The landmark experience to this end will be observed during the legislation process of a controversial new bill empowering the security forces to engage in more efficient crackdowns on violent protestors and to increase sentences given to demonstrators in non-peaceful protests.

The European Commission sincerely expects the Turkish government to ask for advice on the drafted law before enacting it. The government’s sincerity in asking for the Commission’s cooperation on such critical issues, and the Commission’s genuineness in responding to such appeals in an objective way, will stand as a test for both sides. Passing this test successfully will surely serve the interests of both sides and the citizens of the EU and Turkey.