AMANDA – Turkey, democracy and the EU

Turkey, democracy and the EULast week Forbes magazine published an article titled “Vladimir Erdogan: How the Turkish Premier is Consolidating Power Russian Style”. Indeed a dark shadow has fallen across Turkey.

Democracy in Turkey is on skid row.Over the past 12 months the rule of law, separation of powers, civil liberties and freedoms have been eroded or outright crushed.

As in Russia, media in Turkey has been declared by Freedom House as not free, with Ankara, as Moscow, controlling significant chunks of it, particularly the television mediaTurkey’s justice system is today far from independent and more or less based on the age-old system of an “eye for an eye” — those who once wielded the handcuffs are now being handcuffed themselves. The independence of just about every branch of power, with the exception of the Constitutional Court, has been eroded.

However, how long this last bastion of democracy in the country will last remains to be seen. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan has already signaled that he would like to clamp down on that, too.

Despite numerous international watchdogs warning that democracy in Turkey is on the decline, ErdoIan insists Turkey’s democracy is flourishing, which is almost exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin would say. The obvious difference is that Turkey has free and fair elections while Russia does not.

Yet ErdoIan believes that democracy begins and ends at the ballot box. As the Forbes piece writes, ErdoIan as Putin seems to have learned “how to subvert an underdeveloped and fragile democracy, exploit its power base and restructure the political system to serve his interests.

”This is not the direction Turkey was supposed to take. Turkey was the regional star, a role model for other countries, a reliable partner of its Euro-Atlantic partners, a country working to consolidate democracy and rule of law.

Nearly 10 years ago Turkey was at the start of a journey to join the EU. Its political elites worked hard to meet the EU’s Copenhagen criteria to be able to open accession talks, and society looked forward to a bright future as part of a club of values.

Unfortunately, today’s membership process is for all intents and purposes in a coma and the chances of having it revived look slim indeed.The EU is a normative power, able to influence the world through its ability to set rules and standards.

Over the last two decades it has transformed numerous countries, including Poland, Latvia, Hungary and, most recently, Croatia — states that were on the brink of collapse, with high levels of corruption, little rule of law and in many cases centrally controlled economies. It also played a key role in bringing peace to the Western Balkans after the bloody wars of the early 1990s.

The EU has a successful recipe — soft power, the lure of membership — to bring about political and economic reform Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion.So far, this recipe has worked on every country to which it has been prescribed except one — Turkey.

Unfortunately, the prescription no longer works on Turkey because the EU removed membership from the equation, meaning there was only stick and no carrot. This was done because the leaders of some member states decided that they did not want to have Turkey as a member and unnecessarily blocked negotiating chapters.

That is not to say that Turkey is not a difficult partner, because it is. But other countries were difficult, too.

There were very difficult moments with Croatia — related to maritime borders, and war criminals. In this case the EU showed immense political will to iron out these problems.

In the case of Turkey this has not been the case. In the case of the Cyprus issue, for example, it often seems that some countries are grateful for this problem as it blocked the process.

So as the EU accession process ground to a halt, so did democratization in Turkey, and then it started to go in reverse. Turkey has gone from a country where the EU was a national project to one where not one party has the EU as a priority.

While I am not blaming the EU for what has happened and what continues to happen in Turkey, I do believe that if the process had not been derailed with membership talks, the situation may have been different.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman