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What's left of Turkish democracy?

Seda SerdarNovember 12, 2015

The European Union has been watching Turkey like a hawk and Turkish officials aren’t happy about the results. What agony is next for Turkish democracy, asks DW's Seda Serdar?

Screenshot Twitter Account Canan Coskun Türkei Journalistin
Image: Twitter/Canan Coskun

As Turkey prepares to host world leaders this weekend for the G20 Summit in Antalya, a young journalist in Istanbul, Canan Coskun, must appear in court.

Her crime? Investigative journalism. Basically she is being prosecuted for doing her job. Not only that, she is being threatened with 24 years and 3 months in prison. Unfortunately, this is not the first case against journalists, who have dug deep to uncover injustice, corruption and illegal conduct. The attacks on freedom of speech and the repression of the media are not going unnoticed by the European Union (EU).

What progress?

The recently published Progress Report on Turkey shows clearly that there has been no progress. On the contrary, there is visible deterioration: serious backsliding in freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, undermining the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, the president overstepping his constitutional role, changes to Internet law, which push Turkey further away from European standards - and the list goes on.

The Turkish government was quick to shoot back by saying that some statements were unfair, excessive and unacceptable. What is bewildering is the fact that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks of a new constitution and states that this must ensure freedoms and be based on the separation of powers. The problem with this statement is not that it is false, but that the last 13 years have demonstrated that such statements are bound to remain purely theoretical, unless the new government is willing to make changes in practice. If these statements are sincere, the first place to start would be to lift the pressure being exerted on the media and allow people to do their jobs without feeling threatened, or having to resort to self-censorship.

Clear signals

Even though the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) feels that it has unlimited power after its election victory, this perception is misleading. Turkey needs its allies as much as they need Turkey, and the EU didn't do either side a favor by hiding the Progress Report until after the snap elections. It has made the EU look weak and made the AKP feel stronger.

Now, looking ahead, the EU has to send more clear signals to Turkey. A few statements here and there that Turkey is an important ally don't seem to do the trick.

Nor is the financial aid plan to tackle the refugee crises sufficient. The EU needs juicier bait to anchor Turkey to its principles; not just for solving the refugee crises, or the Syrian conflict, but for the sake of democracy in the entire region. What could be more intriguing than revitalizing the accession negotiations? Any yet, the bigger question is, will Turkey bite? It is in the interest of all involved to continue along this stony path.

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