EUROPEAN UNION (EU) Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn (C) attends an opening ceremony at the EU-funded cross-border bridge, in Donji Svilaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina in March..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When it comes to Turkey, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is, as he is on so much else, sadly out of touch. In a recent interview, he talks of not letting Turkey slip into oblivion and ignoring the European Parliament’s demand for an end to accession talks. But to judge from the outcome of the high level political dialogue held between the EU and Turkey at the end of July, they have in fact already ended.
Turkey has set great store by the opening of new negotiating chapters, in particular chapters 23 (judicial and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom and security), but in light of developments since the attempted coup last July and the referendum in April, to do so would be to betray the values for which the EU is supposed to stand. As the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri, noted on her website, continuing to talk about Turkey’s integration into Europe under the current circumstances has become a farce.
As agreed in the EU-Turkey statement of March 18, 2016, in addition to chapter 17 (economic and monetary policy), which was opened in 2015, chapter 33 (financial and budgetary provisions) was opened in June that year. But as Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn pointed out to his Turkish colleagues, that was then.
Under the current circumstances the opening of new chapters is not possible. In contrast to the European Parliament, which called for a suspension of talks, Hahn underlined there was no talk of suspending or terminating negotiations.
However, it is Hahn who has struck the only note of realism, when he in March stated that the prospect of Turkey joining the EU was becoming more and more unrealistic under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime. He also saw no chance for the introduction of visa-free travel for Turks, which Turkey has used as a bargaining chip to stop the flood of refugees to Europe.
The EU has in effect closed the door on Turkey’s membership perspective, and as Hahn has again pointed out, Turkey is moving away from a European perspective, so a new format for cooperation is needed. The question is how this will sit with Turkey’s irascible president, who in May categorically stated that if the EU failed to open more chapters, then it would be “goodbye.” President Erdogan has further made it clear that Turkey will not amend its terrorism laws to align its definition of terrorism with European standards.
As he put it, “we’re going our way, you go yours.”
Juncker is way off the mark if he fears that Turkey will slip into oblivion without Europe’s tutelage.
On the contrary, a former member of the governing AKP’s Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK), Ayhan Ogan, has stated on CNN Turk that President Erdogan has founded a new state in the aftermath of the failed coup.
This has, of course, caused some consternation, as this implies that the Turkish republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 has collapsed. Nevertheless, since the AKP came to power in 2002, it has been the party’s aim to redress what it considers the imbalance of republican rule and replace it with a state founded on Islamic and not secular values.
Already in 1995 Abdullah Gul, who was the AKP’s first prime minister and later foreign minister as well as president, spoke of the end of the republican period.
In the same year Omer Dincer, who later became Erdogan’s undersecretary and minister of education, put forward a blueprint for dismantling the secular republic.
In a symposium he stated that the principle of secularim should be replaced with integration with Islam. Furthermore, that it was necessary to replace all the fundamental principles outlined at the start of the Turkish republic with a more Muslim structure.
Similarly, in a keynote speech at the Istanbul Forum in 2012 Ibrahim Kalin, who is now President Erdogan’s spokesman, spoke of the transformation of Turkey’s identity and a rejection of the European model of secular democracy, politics and pluralism. The following year foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed the republican period as “a parenthesis,” and when he became prime minister in 2014, defined the AKP as a “restoration movement” and talked of the beginning of “a new era” in Turkish history.
Emboldened by the AKP’s electoral success in 2011, when the party was returned to power with 50% of the votes, in 2012 Erdogan openly declared it was his government’s intention to raise “a religious generation” and two years later at a meeting of the National Education Council spoke of “a new lifestyle starting in nursery school.” It is for this reason there has been an explosive increase in the budget allocated to the Religious Affairs Directorate (“Diyanet”) and in the key role played by religious (“imam-hatip”) high schools in the AKP’s plans to change Turkey.
The failed coup and April’s referendum have also paved the way for what former Turkish human rights judge Riza Turmen identified as “social engineering” and “a radical transformation of society.”
Last week at the opening of the newly restored Yildiz Hamidiye Mosque in Istanbul, President Erdogan confirmed the government was determined to raise generations acquainted with their religion, history and culture. This is a far cry from the oblivion to which Jean-Claude Juncker fears Turkey will be consigned.