Turkish coup likely to strain relations with EU

Sunday 24/07/2016
Turkish policemen attend the funeral ceremony of a special forces police officer at the Kocatepe mosque in Ankara on July 21st.

Dubai - As a rising number of Turks — more than 45,000, according to re­ports — are rounded up, sacked or suspended by the Turkish government in re­sponse to the failed coup, concerns have been growing in the West.

Turkey’s state-run news agency reported the detention of more than 100 generals and admirals, 9,000 police and more than one-third of the country’s 81 provincial governors. The crackdown has wid­ened from military, police and the judiciary to include schools and media, with TV and radio station licences being revoked as well.

US and European leaders have called on the Turkish government to demonstrate restraint as a wide-reaching crackdown takes hold. Western leaders appeared to be slow in taking clear positions re­garding the coup while it was un­ravelling.

Turkey, a country with a popu­lation of 75 million and key NATO member, remains a nation of great importance to the West.

Since its founding in 1923, Turkey has experienced extensive military intervention in politics, including four takeovers. The Turkish mili­tary was traditionally dominated by secular republicans keen to pre­serve the political system laid out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

But since it first came to power in 2003, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gradually and skilfully neutralised the political role of the military.

The Turkish military is no longer the political actor or vanguard of secular Kemalism it once was. The latest coup attempt took place amid rumours of discontent among mid-ranking officers of Turkey’s mili­tary. The coup included the chief of staff along with other senior gener­als being taken hostage.

For many observers of Turkish politics, the coup attempt came as a surprise — so much so that it gen­erated debate about how it came about and even whether it could have been staged.

Johannes Hahn, the European Commission official overseeing Turkey’s EU membership bid, said it “looks at least as if something has been prepared… Lists are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain stage. I’m very concerned. It is exactly what we feared.”

Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency, with Erdogan vowing that “all the viruses within the armed forces will be cleansed” as he hunts down “the threat to de­mocracy in our country, the rule of law and the rights and freedom of our citizens”.

The Turkish government has pinned the blame of the attempted coup on former allies but now arch-rivals from the Fethullah Gulen movement.

Participants at pro-government rallies have called for the restora­tion of capital punishment to which Erdogan responded that “demands of the people cannot be overlooked in democracies”.

Capital punishment was abol­ished in 2004 by Erdogan, then the newly elected prime minister, as part of meeting EU conditions for accession as a full member. In recent days, EU leaders have made clear that reinstating the death pen­alty would end Turkey’s member­ship bid.

The European Union is also in the process of finalising a migrant deal with Turkey where Ankara will be assisted with $6.6 billion and Turk­ish citizens offered visa-free travel in return for Ankara preventing mi­grants from crossing to Greece and taking back those who have already made the journey.

The migrant deal has been hit by hurdles due to EU concerns over Turkish counterterrorism laws, which they fear undermine po­litical freedoms. At the same time, however, EU leaders are worried Turkey could reopen routes into Europe for migrants.

The Turkish government’s rela­tions with the West are likely to become more strained over the coming months and perhaps long­er, especially with the European Union, which tends to be stringent on conditions it attaches with its partners.

Turkey has far less to lose this time around, however. Erdogan and his government will be strength­ened, and if their wider foreign policy reset — relations with Russia, in particular — is successful, then realpolitik should pay dividends.

Europe and the West may not have to love Erdogan but they should get used to living with a stronger and meaner president of Turkey.