EU should seize opportunity to demand democratic reforms in Turkey at summit, Piri says

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The European Union should demand improvements in Turkish democracy as a condition to meet a Turkish demand to strengthen trade relations, said Kati Piri, former European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey and member of the Dutch parliament.

EU leaders are due to assess relations with Turkey at a summit on June 24-25 in Brussels. EU leaders will decide how they can promote a “positive agenda” with Turkey agreed at a summit in March. Turkey calls for an update of its customs union with the bloc and more funding for a refugee deal.

“To offer Turkey better trading conditions without any conditions for democratic reforms would be a real waste of the strongest card the EU has,” Piri said in an article published Thursday by the European Council on Foreign Relations. A full version of the text is published below:

After being kept at bay for several years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is due to meet with Western leaders again. Last week he met with US President Joe Biden, as well as several NATO and EU leaders. Next week, the European Council will decide whether to keep the European Union’s past promise of a “positive agenda” with Turkey – and perhaps even improve trade relations between the two.

Early last year, Erdoğan began openly encouraging hundreds of thousands of migrants to cross the Greek border, where people found themselves stranded in no man’s land at the border. Last summer, a military confrontation between Turkey and EU member states appeared to become a serious threat, caused by disputes over exploratory gas drilling in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus. Meanwhile, Turkey’s so-called EU accession process has made no difference in its growing abuses of democracy and fundamental rights.

For years, since the ‘Refugee Agreement’ in 2016, the EU has clung to a transactional policy of Turkey, living in fear of the impact of renewed arrivals of migrants and, more broadly, uncertain. as to how to slow down the democratic retreat big neighbor. There was no political will in Europe to use the instruments at its disposal to try to stop Erdoğan’s autocratic tendency. In doing so, it bypassed the values-based membership process.

The crises of last summer prompted Brussels to rethink its policy. But, instead of focusing on Turkey’s democratic record, the EU is playing the economic card to keep Erdoğan cool: later this month EU leaders will meet at a summit with Turkey, bringing with them proposals to modernize and improve the two sides’ old customs union by adding services, right of establishment, government procurement and agriculture. This would be a major deal for Ankara, as the The EU is Turkey’s main trading partner and Erdoğan is currently grappling with an economic downturn. In return, Brussels is seeking a new agreement on migration and calm in the eastern Mediterranean. European Council President Charles Michel reiterated the language of ‘a “positive agenda” in his hopes for the talks What European leaders want is a Turkish foreign policy that is not diametrically opposed to Europe’s interests.

But such rhetoric is out of place, given that human rights are absent from the proposed dialogue. The EU seeks to forge this new deal while Erdoğan: continues to imprison his political opponents; threatens to shut down the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP); arrest student demonstrators; withdraws from the Istanbul Convention; and ignores the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights on cases as high-profile as the imprisonment of civil society leader Osman Kavala and the imprisonment of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş. What timing for a “positive” agenda!

European leaders assume that there is no alternative to Erdoğan. But they ignore the political reality of Turkey today. The president no longer has the support of most of the population – the “other Turkey” made up of those who stand up for what the EU proclaims to be its core values.

Indeed, Erdoğan’s political position is weaker than it appears at first glance. Turkey’s largest cities are now all ruled by opposition parties. His dwindling internal support – for the first time since coming to power, his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) no longer has a majority in the Turkish parliament – not only means the president is no longer carrying everything to the fore. him, but that there is a constituency in Turkey that will rely on outside voices to support their cause. Economically, Turkey is highly dependent on the European market and foreign investors. And, at the regional level, Erdoğan’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have deteriorated and continue to deteriorate because of Syria. There is also a limit to how far he can go to provoke NATO’s partners in the Eastern Mediterranean. And, last but not least, Erdoğan is faced with the reality that there is a new president in the White House, who cares about protecting democratic standards. It is therefore wrong to assume that the EU is the weaker partner.

The next summit risks strengthening the position of the Turkish president. Brussels has shown itself unwilling to use its economic power to get Erdoğan to change its behavior. Instead, he will conclude that his intensified crackdown on the opposition does not stand in the way of better relations with Brussels. It is also a slap in the face for imprisoned journalists and arrested politicians. The proposed opening cannot be justified by any positive steps taken by Erdogan at home – because there are none.

What makes this even more painful is the fact that the EU has not shied away from sanctioning Russia and Belarus on human rights grounds, with each country respectively prosecuting Alexey Navalny and cracking down on democratic protests. . No unit exists to sanction Turkey, as the Migrant Guardian has quite a few friends in EU capitals and, after all, is an important member of NATO.

As the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, I proposed to officially end the accession negotiations with Turkey due to its poor human rights record, but I never asked for its complete isolation. We must continue cooperation on migration, as Turkey still hosts some four million Syrian refugees. The EU must offer to extend substantial financial support to refugees, do more to resettle vulnerable refugees and convince Greece to end illegal refoulements.

But offering better trading conditions without any strings attached to democratic reforms would be a real waste of the strongest card the EU has. As long as Turkey refuses to implement the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights, it would be a bad signal to give the green light to the start of negotiations on the modernization of the EU-Turkey customs union. And, in the longer term, rather than investing in a future with Erdoğan, the EU should instead invest in closer cooperation with democratic forces in Turkey. They are the ones who believe in democratic values ​​and are able to win hearts and minds in Turkey – something voters confirm in polls. Since change will have to come from within, the most important contribution the EU and the US could make would be to uphold the rule of law, fair elections and a free media. Turkish Democrats will remember which side the West was on when it really mattered.

(A version of this article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations website.)



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