Turkey-EU ties facing new risk after immunities lifted

Turkey-EU ties facing new risk after immunities lifted

Turkey’s new EU Minister Ömer Çelik was in the Netherlands, the EU’s term president, on June 9 and 10. This visit followed his trip to Brussels last week, when he held talks with senior EU officials aimed at overcoming the impasse on the migrant deal amid ongoing disagreements on the definition of terrorism. Turkish leaders have been using softer language in recent days on the continuation of talks with the EU, reiterating Ankara’s willingness to accomplish the process that would grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen area in return for implementing the Readmission Agreement on migrants. 

Technical discussions in Ankara and Brussels were fruitful, according to diplomatic sources, who signaled another high-level summit between Turkey and the EU in the coming weeks, this time with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

This will be important for showing that the EU’s sole interlocutor in sorting this problem out is Erdoğan. It is quite obvious that both sides need to come to a successful conclusion of this agreement, which is the best way to stop the irregular migrant flow into Europe and at the same time help Turkey get closer to the bloc. 

It seems that a common understanding is developing between the two parties. The EU has assured Turkey that it has no intention to ask the Turkish government to reduce its capacity in fighting against terror, particularly in the current circumstances. On the contrary, the meeting in Brussels provided the two parties with an opportunity to explore how they can enhance anti-terror cooperation at a time when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has escalated its terrorist campaign across Turkey. 

However, Turkey-EU ties now face new risks after a controversial constitutional amendment lifting the legal immunities of 152 MPs went into force this week. Some 682 out of 799 files, belonging to 139 lawmakers in total, have been sent to prosecutors’ offices, marking the beginning of a judicial process that could end up with the arrest of deputies on terror-related charges. 

A majority of these cases belong to lawmakers from the ranks of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with three of its lawmakers now under serious risk of being arrested. Such a move would not only fuel ongoing violence in the country through terrorist acts, it would also further escalate political and social tension, as the HDP has announced that its deputies will not go voluntarily to the courts. 

This situation will also put the Turkey-EU process in danger, as Brussels has already urged Ankara that lifting immunities would be considered a serious violation of democratic norms. All EU institutions, many senior officials, as well as the European Parliament and its MPs, have criticized the Turkish move which was apparently instructed by President Erdoğan. 

The “immunity” issue will have serious negative consequences both on Turkey’s already tense internal political and social faultlines and on its relationship with the West. Increased tension between different political camps at the funerals of fallen soldiers and other security personnel, accompanied by the mess created over this immunity question, will further put Turkey’s stability and unity in danger. Unfortunately there seems to be no “superior mind” inside the country that can stop this dangerous course of events.