The EU may halt accession talks with Turkey. Ankara's minister of European affairs has rejected criticism of his government and hardened his stance on full EU membership. This is political theater, writes Barbara Wesel.
Even the least probable political claim becomes believable when repeated often enough. The Turkish government has shown itself to be a master of this art form.
For Turkey's minister of European affairs, Omer Celik, offense was the best defense during his visit to Brussels. From his perspective, the crisis between the two sides mostly comes down to a communication problem. Turkey is simply misunderstood, the country's top EU negotiator claimed. It was the EU's fault for not expressing sufficient sympathy for the Turkish government following the summer coup attempt against it, which justified employing all means of retaliation against its enemies.
Turkey's argument for sweeping detentions, torture, and the cleaning out and closing of independent media is a refrain we have heard for months. It follows the dictator handbook without fail. Who is Celik trying to convince with such a performance? Turkey is no closer to joining the EU - to the contrary. The propaganda only preaches to the choir of those who see nothing lost in the near term by a fallout with the EU.
Here, too, Celik blames others. It is Europe that is anti-Islam and anti-immigrant. The rise of right-wing populism is the cause for anti-Turkey sentiment, a line of reasoning that culminates in the EU affairs minister declaring Turkey a flawless, European-style democracy.
Turkey not a credible candidate
Celik's surreal performance before EU counterparts serves no other purpose than providing a platform in Brussels for his government's totalitarian propaganda. Why permit it? President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters have no intention of adopting European principles and democratic values. Membership negotiations only give them a larger audience for distorting the truth.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and other state leaders argue the importance of maintaining lines of communication with Turkey. The absence of real dialogue reveals this to be wishful thinking. Ankara completely ignores European demands, routinely violates democratic principles and pushes itself ever further from EU membership. Accession talks are effectively on ice: better to officially declare them so than confuse citizens with murky logic.
Don't let us be blackmailed
Merkel exposed herself to blackmail as soon as she concluded the refugee agreement with Turkey last winter. Now the Turkish government is threatening to open the gates and let thousands more refugees stream into Europe. This has made the EU unnecessarily cautious.
EU member states have long been unwilling to follow European Parliament's wish to freeze membership talks with Turkey. They must be formally ended. How can the fairytale of continuing negotiations be justified in light of outrageous attacks against Turkey's press and opposition? The redline is not Turkey's reimplementation of the death penalty; the redline was crossed long ago. It is just this kind of ambiguous, disingenuous politics that play into the hands of populists. European leaders should at last have the courage to go through with the inevitable: End the pretend membership talks.
The EU must make clear to President Erdogan: With Europe, this shall not stand. Such a statement would be an important contribution to political transparency in Europe.
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