A chorus of international condemnation is growing around Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian state. Yet, the EU finds that the country remains on track to join the union. A closer look reveals the slow meltdown of this candidate member and its hidden fatal flaws threatening the EU itself.
In what surely must have been tough talks, in late November 2015 the European Council agreed to a package deal with Turkey: a staggering 3 billion euro’s was promised to Ankara, as payment for the refugee’s cost. In turn, Turkey would make sure less refugees crossed the sea to Greece. Less noticed was that the EU leaders promised to speed up Turkey’s accession, a process that had been going on since 1995. However, the truly bad news was overlooked.
While the negotiations were still on, the European Commission had to publish its yearly progress report on Turkey’s accession. While in Ankara it was not pleasant reading, in Europe it was not even noticed. It read:
- ‘The independence of the judiciary (has) been undermined’ p.14
- ‘Backsliding on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly’ p.22
- ‘Frequent threats against journalists’ p.22
- ‘An intimidating climate [leading] to increased self-censorship’ p.23
- ‘Judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure’ p.55
- ‘Media blackouts were imposed in several cases considered as sensitive’ p.64
- ‘A growing intolerance of public protests’ p.65
- ‘Respect for LGBTI remain a matter of serious concern’ p.67
- ‘Hate crimes, attacks and murders of transgender persons are a cause of deep concern’ p.67
As if more was needed to make clear to the outside world that Turkey was far from being the ideal candidate member, in January, more than a dozen academics were rounded up and held for 2 days in prison – without judicial oversight – on charges of sponsoring terrorism. The crime committed? They had a signed a letter asking the government to urgently restart peace talks with the Kurds.
“A government that blocks Twitter is certainly not ready for accession”
As regional analysts have warned repeatedly, Turkey is fast transforming into a semi-democratic state led by an increasingly authoritarian president. Indeed, Turkey is witnessing a ‘Putinisation‘ of the country.
The media law of 2015 that gave the executive broad powers to block communication channels is, as the commission itself notes, not ‘in the spirit’ of the EU. That is putting things mildly indeed.
European Commission president Juncker articulated clearly and bravely his vision on Turkey: ‘A government that blocks Twitter is certainly not ready for accession.’
That Turkey is far from ready to join, is further evidenced by two examples: as the EC’s report quotes, since 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found that Turkey violated the European Convention on Human Rights a staggering 92 times (yes, you read that right). Transparency International downgraded the country from its least-corrupt index from 53 to 66th.
However, the heads of state of the European Council asked the Commission to speed up the negotiations in 2016. More precisely, chapters 23 and 24, on rule of law, democracy and justice that for years have been the most sensitive points of negotiation, could now be opened later this year, effectively paving the way for a major compromise.
What has happened? The refugee catastrophe leveraged Turkey’s bargaining position; in the course of the negotiations, the principled approach to Turkey’s accession was the first casualty. The second casualty were the EU’s finances: an astonishing 3 billion euro’s (yes, again you read that right) were promised to Ankara.
So imagine the perfect storm: the U.K. leaves the union, a while later Turkey joins as a large, powerful, semi-democratic state. What would be left of the EU? In the long term, not a lot.