Emphasis by EU, US on freedoms mostly remains rhetoric

Despite using rhetoric pressuring Turkey on issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, both the EU and the US appear to be pursuing their own interests and are willing to work with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) after its landslide victory in the Nov. 1 parliamentary election.
The EU needs Turkeyand’s help to curb the refugee crisis, and it is offering to accelerate the countryand’s long-stalled EU membership process in exchange for an action plan that will contain the mostly Syrian refugees and others in Turkey.
Only about a week before the parliamentary election, German Chancellor Angela Merkeland’s visit to Turkey, which was interpreted by outside observers as a political boost, has signaled the desperation of the EU to curb the refugee crisis. Moreover, Merkel promised Turkish leaders to give the momentum to Turkeyand’s EU membership process however, she needs the backing of other EU countries.
In a joint statement, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Nov. 2 that and”the EU will work together with the future government in order to further enhance the EU-Turkey partnership and to continue to aance our cooperation across all areas for the benefit of all citizens.andquot The statement also acknowledged that the election campaign environment was not free and fair and that basic principles of democracy were undermined.
Feeling the pressure of thousands of refugees on European soil, the EU recently offered Turkey an action plan that includes the establishment of six receiving centers in Turkey for refugees, as well as fresh funds of 3.4 billion euros to meet the needs of refugees. Turkey is already hosting more than 2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and the number is expected to increase even more following Russiaand’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Russian military jets have been bombing Syrian opposition forces and causing more refugees to flee to Turkey. The EU has also postponed its annual progress report for Turkey. The progress report is expected to have a sharp, critical tone about the anti-democratic developments in Turkey with regards to press freedoms and freedom of expression. The report was going to be announced in October, but the EU postponed the announcement until after the Nov. 1 election in Turkey. It is likely that the EU wanted to postpone the report to refrain from criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s AK Party before the elections and before reaching an understanding with Turkey on the refugee action plan.
Veteran Turkish diplomat and former Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) deputy Faruk Loioilu said the EUand’s overriding criterion regarding Turkey is now the problem of refugees, and therefore all other issues and values have faded to the background.
and”The EU is in panic, faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees at the gates of Europe. The EU countries have long failed to develop a strategy, even a coordinated policy on the migration issue. Now they have been caught unprepared and they think that they can talk Turkey into keeping the several million refugees there in Turkey. In return, they will offer some financial and political incentives, amounting to no more than a bribe. The EU is failing morally,and” Loioilu told Sundayand’s Zaman.
and”The problem is compounded by the fact that their Turkish counterparts, the AKP [AK Party] governments have also pursued a disastrous Syria and Iraq policy, resulting in ever increasing numbers of refugees. Both the EU and Turkey must avoid making the refugee issue a cheap bargaining chip in their relations and do something in consonance with human dignity,andquot he added.
h2The US interestsh2 When it comes to the US, Washingtonand’s interests in Syria and its expectations from Turkey weigh more than American concerns over democracy and freedoms in the country. But still, the US officials could not remain silent over certain violations in Turkey during the campaign process.
After the election, the White House expressed its deep concern over the pressure and intimidation on media organizations and journalists during the election campaign.
andquotThe White House was deeply concerned that media outlets and journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign,andquot White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday. Amid reports that journalists were pressured in order to weaken political opposition, Earnest said the White House has urged Turkish authorities to uphold the values of its Constitution. The US Department of State also expressed the same concerns about media freedom in Turkey. and”The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government,and” State Department Press Office Director Elizabeth Trudeau said on Nov. 2, adding that as a friend and NATO ally, the US is committed to continuing its close cooperation with Turkey. However, she pointed out, and”The media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition.
and”We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in Turkeyand’s constitution,and” she added.
As Henri Barkey, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, pointed out in a recent article that appeared on The American Interest website, andquotthe US has always shown a tendency to work with the status quo, especially when it comes to an ally such as Turkey.and” Barkey said the US now faces three challenges with regards to Turkey. According to him, the first and least-significant challenge is the anti-American tone of Erdogan and his party, and especially the Erdogan-controlled press, representing approximately 70 percent of all outlets, whether print, television, online or social media.
The second challenge is the increasingly authoritarian bent of the government, including the arbitrary confiscation of opposition television channels and newspapers and the prosecution of individuals from all walks of life for criticizing the president, said Barkey, adding that if such campaigns continue, or even escalate, after these elections, it will make for uncomfortable conversations between US and Turkish officials, potentially casting a shadow on other bilateral issues. But the most pressing issue will be Syria, Barkey pointed out. US and Turkish goals in Syria are out of sync, he said, adding that Turkey prioritizes the defeat of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus and the containment, if not reversal, of Syrian Kurdish gains made by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD emerged recently as the most effective ground force fighting against the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The US wants to eliminate ISIL first and the Assad regime is a secondary issue.
After months of negotiations, the US had a deal with the Turkish government on receiving expanded access to incirlik Air Base in Turkeyand’s Adana province, which is in close proximity to ISIL targets both in Syria and Iraq. Turkey also opened other air bases for the US in Diyarbakir and Batman. Turkey is worried about the US and the PYD getting closer while fighting against ISIL and this cooperation may result in an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria.
The Turkish bases are critical to the US to conquer Raqqa with the help of the PYD, Barkey said, adding that Washingtonand’s decision to introduce 50 special forces troops into Syria in the past week could not have happened without access to those bases. The US also plans to bring in A-10 ground attack fighter aircraft to the Turkish bases. and”It is easy to see how an emboldened Erdogan may want to extract new concessions from Washington on the other hand, this is also an opportunity for the Turks to come in from the cold and begin to shape anew a grand bargain over both Syria and Iraq. We will soon find out,and” said Barkey.
On Nov. 2, David Phillips, the director of a program on peace-building and rights at Columbia Universityand’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, wrote an opinion piece that appeared on the Huffington Post news website saying that Turkey and the US are on a and”collision courseand” on Syria.
and”US policy-makers are upset by Erdoganand’s authoritarianism and anti-democratic governance, especially his crackdown on press freedom. The Pentagon is still smarting from Turkeyand’s collusion with jihadi groups and half-hearted participation in the multinational coalition fighting ISIS,and” said Phillips.
He added that the US accepts the AK Partyand’s electoral victory, but it cannot condone policies that undermine US counterterrorism goals.
Phillips stressed that when US President Barack Obama meets Erdogan in mid-November at the G-20 summit, which will be held in Antalya, he should reaffirm Americaand’s commitment to working with the PYD and an attack against them will be considered as an attack against the US. and”The US and Turkish militaries need a protocol for de-conflicting in the event of a confrontation in Syrian airspace,and” said Phillips.


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