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Turkey under the scanner again

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted on April 25 a resolution entitled “The functioning of the democratic institutions in Turkey.” The resolution received 113 votes in favor and 45 against. Unlike the other members of Turkey’s delegation to PACE, two members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) voted in favor.

The resolution placed Turkey under observation, and said it deviated from democratic practices by violating human rights in security operations. This means Europe deems Turkey non-compliant with the Copenhagen political criteria, which is considered the main reference for good governance and human rights.

Turkey was put on the watch list in 1996 and stayed there for eight years. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) worked hard in 2004 to get Turkey off the list, and prided itself on doing so. It persuaded the Council of Europe by carrying out structural reforms in all areas of fundamental rights and freedoms. These reforms were also a precondition for starting Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU.

Its performance was much appreciated by Gunther Verheugen, then-EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, who said in 2004: “The reforms achieved in Turkey in the last 18 months are more than the reforms achieved in the last 80 years.” The same country has now become the first in the history of the Council of Europe to be put back on the watch list.

PACE resolutions are regarded as a touchstone for high standards in governance. The EU, which is an entirely different body, follows closely the activities of the Council of Europe and abides by its norms.

Turkey, a founding member of the Council since 1949, now has the highest number of complaints against it in the European Court of Human Rights, the Council’s judiciary organ. Most of the complaints are about violations of human rights such as suspending, sacking, arresting and jailing public servants.

The interests of both Turkey and the EU require that wisdom prevail and politicians on both side avoid inflammatory rhetoric and use silent diplomacy to sort out their differences and reduce tension.

Yasar Yakis 

After the PACE resolution, eyes turned to the meeting of EU foreign ministers on April 28 in Malta. Some EU politicians, such as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, were trying to promote the idea of suspending Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the EU not to end accession talks despite deep misgivings over Turkey’s human rights record, saying the country is key to European interests.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained defiant, saying after the April 16 referendum on amending the constitution that Turkey may hold another referendum on whether to continue accession negotiations with the EU. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who participated in the Malta meeting, afterward said the EU has understood its mistake and is now trying to find ways to relaunch the accession talks.

The tone was slightly different in a statement by Frederica Mogherini, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy: “Some clarifications are needed from Ankara. The accession process continues, it is not suspended, not ended (although) we are currently not working on any new chapters. The criteria are very clear, well known and if Turkey is interested in joining, as the foreign minister told us today, it knows very well what that implies, especially in the field of human rights, rule of law, democracy and freedoms.”

Mogherini’s statement means the EU preferred to put the ball in Turkey’s court by leaving the door ajar to become a member, but asked Ankara to provide clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the admission criteria, especially regarding human rights and the rule of law.

The interests of both Turkey and the EU require that wisdom prevail and politicians on both side avoid inflammatory rhetoric and use silent diplomacy to sort out their differences and reduce tension. If this is not done, Europe will be deprived of a strong ally in the Middle East and the Islamic world, but Turkey’s loss will likely be bigger because it will be further isolated internationally.

 

Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).