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MEP: EU apathy enables Erdogan's repression

Teri Schultz Brussels
June 16, 2017

The European Parliament's rapporteur says EU inaction betrays Turks suffering under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. She wants a freeze of Turkey's accession process if the president implements further anti-democratic measures.

Türkei Proteste gegen Verhaftung von Enis Berberoglu in Ankara
Image: Reuters

Last November, the European Parliament called for a temporary freeze on Turkey's EU accession talks - a waiting period to see whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would return some normalcy to the nation after his all-out rampage to find, isolate and jail the people he accused of being linked in any way to last year's failed coup. Erdogan pins the putsch on followers of his political rival, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. 

The president has continued purging public workers by the tens of thousands. This spring, however, Erdogan held a referendum that would concentrate power in the presidency and grant him new powers, as well. Kati Piri, a Dutch MEP and the European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur, has called on her fellow lawmakers to go further in expressing their disapproval of Erdogan's tactics and plans. 

Next week Piri will present her report to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, and she expects lawmakers to agree with her conclusion that Turkey must be cut off from EU membership if it implements Erdogan's desired constitutional changes over the next two years, as the president plans.

Piri said she would seek the measure not to punish Erdogan, but to stand up for the European Union. "It's not like we're saying let's stop all dialogue with Turkey," Piri told DW, "but continuing to pretend to talk with the Turkish government on integration into the EU is just really boosting euroskepticism also in our countries."

'Stop and reflect'

Peter Westmacott is a former British ambassador to Ankara, Paris and Washington who has just written a new short book reflecting on his two tours in Turkey, a country he regards with obvious fondness - if also with alarm of late. Westmacott still hopes to see Erdogan reverse his digression from international norms and reinvigorate the promising relationship that the country had cultivated with the European Union as recently as a few years ago.

"Turkey is a country, which in my view, and those of British governments over the years, has every right to be considered a European country and a candidate for membership of the European Union," Westmacott told DW. "I would like to think that those who are in power, those who care about the future of the country, might stop and reflect on what's best for the Turkish people, for their prosperity, for their freedom to realize their full potential. A decade ago, Turkey was making great progress. I'd love to see it doing so again."

Westmacott is more optimistic than many observers of politics in Turkey. Even now, he said, the Erdogan regime could still launch a "very direct and comprehensive reform process, resumption of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression."

Westmacott said there was time for genuine progress between now and the 2019 presidential election - in which the referendum would permit Erdogan to run - but, if the time were not utilized, "the integrity of laws and institutions could be lost for a long time. The country and its people deserve better."

By 2019, the European Parliament will also in theory have determined whether to cut Turkey off from the accession process - based in part on whether the national legislature approves Erdogan's desired changes to the constitution. 

Inaction is impunity

Erdogan might not have to worry about his country's EU status being downgraded. The European Parliament is just one of the three institutions that would have to take action. Piri is not optimistic that the European Commission or Council will follow the legislature's lead. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, is among the leaders who have explicitly said they don't want to cut off talks.

Piri said statements from EU leaders against Turkish repression had gotten weaker rather than stronger, and she thinks that's worse than ineffective: It's dangerous. "The lack of strategy on the EU side is actually having a negative effect on many millions of people in Turkey who believe in the European institutions such as the Council of Europe and the EU," she said. "Sitting back waiting and hoping and praying that one day Turkey will return to normal is actually only boosting the authoritarianism of Erdogan."

Recent events have backed up Piri's words. More journalists are in jail in Turkey than in any other country. And Taner Kilic, Amnesty International's Turkey director, was arrested June 7, sparking international outrage.

In fact, at almost the very moment Piri was describing the perils of the European Union's apathy toward events in Ankara, Enis Berberoglu, the deputy leader of Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party, was being sentenced to 25 years in prison without a trial. The lawmaker is accused of sharing information with journalists about allegations that Erdogan's intelligence service had sent weapons into Syria. Internationally, the Republican People's Party allies with Piri's center-left Socialists and Democrats bloc.

In a statement, Piri wearily called Berberoglu's sentencing yet another "new low point in Turkey."

The next 24 hours held another surprise: a seven-year prison sentence for Aydin Sefa Akay, a UN judge from Turkey accused of cultivating links to terrorism while he sat on a UN court in The Hague. The UN Security Council had previously issued an order to set the judge free, saying his forced stay in Turkey is a violation of international law. Erdogan ignored it.

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