Turkey cannot bypass Copenhagen criteria

Turkey cannot bypass Copenhagen criteria

It has been a rather popular discussion for decades. Is the European Union a geographic zone or an area of norms and values? With the Copenhagen criteria, the EU partly provided an answer to that question by setting a web of values and norms as the sine qua non (absolute requirements) of eligibility for membership. The Maastricht criteria, on the other hand, set economic and administrative standards required for a common economy and to some degree, a monetary union. 

While Maastricht criteria might be achieved during the period of accession negotiations, the Copenhagen criteria of democratic governance, respect of norms and values of democracy are absolute musts any candidate must possess at a satisfactory level before it can be eligible for accession talks. It is not a welcome development but as was seen in the Europe’s last crisis, countries might, because of local political failures and political greed, try to make the best use of confidence entrusted to them and deviate from the Maastrict criteria, thus landing the entire economic zone in varying degree of economic crisis.

Copenhagen criteria, however, cannot and should not be bypassed, ignored or placed aside by any member or membership-aspiring country because the norms and values listed are the basic fundamental requirements for club membership. What are the Copenhagen criteria? It is rather easy to answer: If any country governs exactly the opposite of today’s governance in Turkey, it perfectly complies with the Copenhagen criteria. As they were stated in the 1993 Copenhagen Council statement, the Copenhagen criteria is: “Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”

Starting from today, Turkish leaders will most likely declare the Turkey Progress Report, which had yet to be voted on at the European parliament when this article was penned, as hypocritical, unacceptable and contained false and biased information. Perhaps an easy way will be found and the report will be refused all together, by saying the report again called for Turkey’s recognition of allegations that Ottoman Turks committed an Armenian genocide during the dissolution years of the empire. Of course, it is Turkey’s right to accept or reject any document but with regards to voting at a parliament of a club it is aspiring to join, Turkey must take into consideration that to join it must abide by the rules of the game.

What it does regarding Armenian claims is a rather political question, not only for Turkey but more so with the EU. One may question the relevance of such a European sensitivity in view of the fact that not only Germany, France and Britain but many nations were accomplices of the trauma unleashed during those years; this is an issue that must be clarified by a historical commission of experts (as Turkey has suggested).

But, when it comes to the criteria “a Candidate country must achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities,” doesn’t Turkey have a serious problem?

As it has always been said, democracy might be considered a train that must stay on course and when it is derailed for any reason, the end result might be a catastrophe. There cannot be a democracy a la carte or a la Erdoğan. Democracy is a web of norms, values and institutions and deficiency in any area disqualifies it.

Deficiency of democratic governance is no longer democracy; it might be autocracy, dictatorship or anything else but not democracy. It is for exactly this reason that Turkey has been suffering from a “precious isolation” for a long time.

The president and his merry men have been complaining that journalists and opposition politicians were “spying” for the Europeans, Americans and others by talking with them about the democracy problems of Turkey. They are unaware that in regards to human rights and freedoms, the sacrosanct borders and non-interference in internal affairs principles of the Westphalian order just vanishes into thin air. 

If U.S. President Barrack Obama, a deputy sitting on his bench at the European Parliament, media associations in Turkey and, as the Turkish saying goes, “the deaf sultan” are all pointing at the fact that something nasty is happening in Turkey in regards to freedoms, human rights, democratic governance and complain that democratic institutions have all fallen victim to an obsessive “all mine” mentality, perhaps it is high time to sit back and realize what grave mistakes are being done by a government, which, up until a few years ago, was hailed as the most reformist Turkish administration ever.

If Turkey wants to stay committed to its European vocation, the government and the president must see that Turkey cannot and should not try to bypass the Copenhagen criteria. At least they should realize that a player wishing to join a game must abide with the rules and stop demanding recognition of its “peculiar conditions” and be given some privileges.