Turkey-EU: Back to the Future

Turkey-EU: Back to the Future

Prime Minister Erdoğan paid his first visit in five years to Brussels on Jan. 21. His visit validated the saying that “the world isn’t interested in the storms you encountered, but only in whether you brought the ship to the harbor or not”. The EU made it clear that it is not interested in what Erdoğan deals with domestically, but only in the reforms he makes in his country.

Erdoğan must have realized this fact since he froze the controversial bill reshaping the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) shortly after the EU expressed serious concerns over it. He also said that 2014 will be a milestone in EU-Turkey relations and in the democratization process in the country.

The AKP struggled with the military tutelage in Turkey during its first term between 2002-2007. Allying with the EU, it passed eight harmonization packages and two constitutional packages. Its efforts were awarded and accession negotiations were opened in October 2005. Yet, the military tutelage was still not totally rooted away in its second term. In 2008 the government faced the closure trial to close the AKP. This time, however, it allied with the Gülen Movement instead of the EU to fight with the tutelage.

In its ongoing third term the AKP is in similar conditions as its first term. It is struggling with a “parallel tutelage” in the words of Prime Minister and has no domestic ally at all. Hence the urgent need for the EU anchor reemerged.

Yet the AKP has recently received harsh criticism from the EU countries because of the excessive use of the police force during the Gezi protests. And now the EU is concerned about the rule of law and separation of powers in Turkey due to the government’s aggressive push for changes in the judicial system following the draft probe on Dec. 17.

Even so, relations are gaining momentum. First the Prime Minister’s visit to Brussels removed the possibility of the suspension of the negotiations. Thereafter French President Hollande paid a visit to Turkey, the first by a French head of state in 22 years. Following this, President Gül asked the EU to remove the obstacles in Turkey’s accession process during his visit to Rome last week.

The major move, however, is coming this week. The government is going to pass the fifth democratization package which is supposed to abolish the specially authorized courts and the anti-terror law, subordinate the Gendarmerie General Command to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and align the procedures of phone tapping, investigations and judicial proceedings with the EU criteria.

Yet this package should be considered only as a sequence in a long, ongoing and evolving process to secure the continuation of the democratization trend and to make this year really a milestone. In addition, this sequence should not include moves curbing freedom of expression such as the currently debated amendments in internet law curbing internet freedoms.

And a humble reminder for Turkey’s partner: This is a two-way street. The Cyprus conflict is still blocking many chapters in the negotiations. On top of that, President Hollande repeated once again in Ankara that they will put Turkey’s EU membership to a referendum. Considering the fact that 83 percent of the French people are against Turkey’s membership, this would only turn a low possibility into an impossibility.

Having reminded everyone of their duties, time to lean back and stay tuned.