EU steps up criticism of Turkey

Sunday 13/11/2016
Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik delivers a speech during a press conference on an EU report on Turkish candidacy for European Union, on November 9th. (Getty Images)

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.”