Only few bridges are left unburned

Only few bridges are left unburned

Over the weekend, Turkey was hit by a wave of nationalism pumped on the occasion of the first anniversary of the thwarted coup attempt of July 15, 2016. Remarks have gone far enough to even compare the event to the glorious episodes in Turkey’s history during the War of Independence. 

Emotions and nationalist feelings are also observed in other countries. In Europe, or in the United States, there is growing support across the political spectrum to build on primordial sentiments to revive unity. Many observers argue that this trend is weakening democracy and egalitarianism. Lack of those concepts in a society increase the risk of polarization and tendencies of authoritarianism.

Europe, in spite of the populist streams prevailing in socio-economic and socio-political development, also know that they have accepted a value beyond nationalism. The European Union is a supra-national union. Therefore, European nations, although they maintain their cultural, emotional and primordial distinctive features in their countries, know that they have committed themselves to a higher ideal, the ideal of Europeanness.

Turkey also wants to become a member of the EU. For more than 50 years, this country has been expressing its willingness toward the union of communities and nations. On the path toward membership, Turkey has gone through several tests of endurance and has survived. Compatibility and interoperability with EU ideals, principles and standards have always been the challenge throughout this journey. 

Turkey, particularly in the last couple of years, has burned a lot of bridges that would take it to Europe. Today, one can see that only few bridges are left unburned which will allow Turkey to pass over in order to continue its western walkabout. 

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker’s article in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, published over the weekend, flags the danger and prudently signals that there are still bridges over troubled waters of Turkey-EU relationship which should be kept operational.

“EU’s hands remain outstretched to Turkey,” Juncker said, dismissing the anxiety and suspicion in many Turkish circles who think that the EU is only playing with Turkey. Underlining the importance of a “democratic, stable and economically successful Turkey” to the European Union, Juncker cautioned that “Turkey should move closer to Europe rather than moving away from it.”

Twelve years have passed since Turkey started its membership talks in 2005 with the EU. In those 12 years, Turkey’s government has not changed. There is a perception in the EU, however, that although the government in Turkey remains unchanged, its determination to become an EU member and commitments to European ideals have transformed. This is the reason why Juncker emphasizes in his article that the EU is “a union of values.” He also reiterated that “Turkey too should clearly show its European colors and emphatically take basic European values to heart.”

What are those values? Rule of law, respect to human rights and freedoms and the freedom of expression are universal values which are internalized by Europe. These are the values Europe expects Turkey to abide by and conform to. From this point of view, it would not be seen as a surprise to read Juncker urging in particular against the detention without trial of journalists, including Deniz Yücel of German newspaper Die Welt. Juncker stresses that this is “in no way compatible with a union of human rights, press freedom and the rule of law.”

The most important warning, however, is a direct reference to a basic concept which is strictly abandoned in all the EU member countries, that is the death penalty. Juncker makes it very clear that “if Turkey were to introduce the death penalty, the Turkish government would definitively slam the door on EU membership.”

Primordial sentiments are important for a nation. Emotions, however, can easily be manipulated and transformed into paranoia and fabrications of conspiracy theories. Such developments alienate nations entirely from the rest of the international community. Turkey needs to integrate into the international community. This is only possible if a meaningful and sustainable relationship with Europe could be maintained.