EU steps up criticism of Turkey
Brussels - The European Union stepped up criticism of Turkey’s crackdown on opponents and alleged plotters behind a failed coup, drawing a sharp retort from Ankara, which accused Europe of failing to grasp the threats it faces.
Neither side seems ready to take the kind of active reprisal that might wreck the delicate relationship of mutual dependence. Brussels needs Ankara to keep stopping migrants reaching Europe and Turkey, seeing its currency hit record lows on instability fears, wants to keep access to European markets.
The European Union said events in Turkey were “extremely worrying” but that it would maintain dialogue with Ankara on its prospects of joining the union. However, on the eve of an annual report on Turkey’s progress to membership, it ignored calls from some for talks to be halted or for other sanctions.
Nonetheless, a strong statement by the European Union and its states saying Turkey must stop polarising its society and safeguard its democracy, plus a personal dig by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, underline concern that a vital Muslim ally and a buffer against the chaos of the Middle East risks pitching itself into a new era of instability.
EU leaders are also under pressure to speak out on Turkey’s crackdown on the media and Kurdish politicians while Ankara is seeking to satisfy expectations among Turks that it stand up to criticism from what the government sees as an historic adversary.
As it faces violence in the Kurdish south-east and its forces confront the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Europeans had lost credibility with Turks after demands that it loosens anti-terrorism laws and go easy after arresting journalists, Kurdish lawmakers and tens of thousands of public servants over a botched coup in July.
Since then, the two sides have been sharply divided by rhetoric. Europeans have voiced understanding for the challenges that Erdogan faces but a new round of arrests, including those last week of leading Kurdish lawmakers, has strained that reserve.
Leaders on both sides speak of drifting apart.
“I note with bitterness that Turkey is day by day distancing itself further from Europe,” Juncker said in a November 8th speech. “All that the Turkish authorities are doing today leads me to believe that in the end Turkey does not want to… meet European standards.”
Juncker insisted that the European Union would not ease visa requirements for Turkish travellers, as promised in the March deal that helped stem the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe, until Turkey amended its harsh anti-terror law. He cited Erdogan by name and said Turks would blame him for any failure to free up travel to Europe.
“We need Turkey,” he said, “but we cannot give up on our main principles.”
Erdogan said in a speech November 6th that he did not care being labelled a dictator. “Europe has been on a course that is leading to its own demise,” he said.
“Those who are willing to drown the rest of the world in blood to preserve the sense of security and peace inside their own borders move further from humanity each day.”
Despite occasional threats, however, Turkey has made no move to break the agreement with the European Union, under which it agreed to take back Syrian refugees and others who might make it to Greece in return for EU funding for the Syrians living in Turkey, a new start on EU accession talks and a liberalisation of EU visas.
From Europe, as long as the weekly arrivals from Turkey stay in the dozens compared to tens of thousands this time last year, there is little urgency in seeing Turkey meets the 72 criteria that would trigger the easing of visa controls.
Major elections due next year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where anti-immigration parties are doing well and oppose fostering a closer relationship with Turkey, add to the sense that Brussels is in no hurry to push to complete the deal.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose leaders were recently arrested, issued a statement in Brussels warning that Europe’s cooperation with Erdogan could backfire.
Accusing EU members of keeping quiet to protect the migrant deal, it said: “The current campaign of repression… can cause a wave of millions of Kurdish and Turkish refugees heading for Europe.”