EU Must Decide Now on Turkey

EU Must Decide Now on Turkey

May 2012

Historically, European political traditions have based their assessment of Turkey on two distinct ideological differences.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 when Turkey was suffering from economic and political crises. Although AKP attracted votes from only thirty four per cent of the electorate, it was able to form a dominant majority in the Turkish parliament due to the politically restrictive, anti-democratic election system. The main reasons for this instability rooted from a divided coalition government and concerns of the army with regards to the safeguarding of secularist values. The interventionist policies of the army had also raised alarms within liberal circles. In the midst of such turmoil, the AKP both managed to present itself as conservative; entrusting the votes of religious devotees, and drew attention from Turkey’s democrats and the European political community by resorting to the use of liberalist rhetoric.

Historically, European political traditions have based their assessment of Turkey on two distinct ideological differences. European centre-right policies have always favoured the importance of political and economic stability for Turkey and her region over the promotion of universal democratic values. For that reason, a moderate level of democracy in Turkey sufficed for the same right-wing policies as a means of sustaining her stability. On the other hand, the European centre-left [specifically Scandinavian] policies towards Turkey were traditionally based on an equal partnership understanding, but at the same time were critical of Turkey’s democratic shortcomings. For example, the Kurdish question, constituting one of the most deeply entrenched political debates in Turkey, has rather been a straightforward strategic matter for the European Right. However from a European socialist point of view, this matter is still in essence a matter of fully observing international human rights criteria.

This ideological division in Europe with regards to Turkey, presented in the form of mixed messages to the Turks, has significantly devalued the appeal of the European Union for Turkish liberal and democratic socialist groups.

Today the AKP government is enjoying their third term in power. In spite of this longevity, the AKP today is completely detached from its original, self-fabricated identity of conservative-liberalism. It has lost its political agenda “if ever existed” for promoting liberal values such as the rule of law, a pluralist society, freedom of press, union rights and women’s and minority rights. The AKP government has recently further positioned itself against a secularist constitution which guarantees the rule of law and democracy in Turkey.

Europe will either cooperate with and support this current government in the name of stability and ignore and sacrifice Turkey’s significant democratic achievements in the course of its history, or will invite and foster Turkey to promote a universal human rights-centred, liberal democratic system to ensure the lawful protection of all its freedoms, and view Turkey as an equal ally of European civilization. As a result of the political divisions within the European Union, Turkey has at times been credited for its political and economic stability, and at other times been criticized for its unsatisfactory record of democratic progress. This ideological division in Europe with regards to Turkey, presented in the form of mixed messages to the Turks, has significantly devalued the appeal of the European Union for Turkish liberal and democratic socialist groups.

The democratic achievements of any country could well be eroded by placing emphasis on political stability alone. On the other hand Turkey, in the long run, would become a stable country and an ally in real terms as long as its democratic and pluralist progress is patiently and decisively advocated. The choice that needs to be made by every friend of Turkey in Europe, beyond the ones dictated by bureaucratic institutions of the EU, is clear. This choice is undoubtedly to embrace a Turkey which is committed to improving its democratic agenda and rule of law.

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