Turkey and the EU are only a few steps away from a complete breakdown in decade-old accession talks after Turkish government’s unrelenting crackdown on opponents, systematic undercutting of democratic mechanism and central tenets of the rule of law.
The recent flashpoint of diplomatic crisis erupted on Tuesday when Turkey, in yet another bold step, moved to purge over 15,000 public officials, in addition to 110,000 public servants already dismissed in earlier rounds of sweeping purge campaign conducted across all departments of the state bureaucracy.
It sent waves of ripples across EU capitals, with some EU countries calling for the suspension of the negotiation process with Turkey whose decades-old aspiration to become a full member went nowhere. EU lawmakers in the European Parliament are poised to vote in a non-binding vote on Thursday to decide whether to halt Turkey’s accession talks after the unprecedented crackdown against opponents since an abortive coup in July.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to dismiss the upcoming vote as “having no value.” He even threatened to end entire EU process, and again brought forward Turkey’s desire to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an Asian political, military and economic alliance led by Russia and China. Whenever Turkey-EU relations descend into a state of crisis, Ankara contemplates the idea of SCO membership as a replacement to the EU, mostly in a desire to show that it is not without alternatives.
“There will be a meeting at the European Parliament tomorrow, and they will vote on EU talks with Turkey… Whatever the result will be, this vote has no value in our eyes,” Reuters quoted the Turkish president as saying at a meeting of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul on Wednesday. Erdogan even called on OIC members and fellow Muslim countries to stand up against the West in the face of “double standards and bad treatment of Muslims by West.”
The Turkish leader slammed the EU for its double standards against Turkey and its abetting of terrorist organizations and Kurdish militants. The rancorous rhetoric is not new and reveals the sense of exasperation and frustration on behalf of Turkish leaders who consider the EU reluctant to embrace Muslim Turkey, an interpretation that is rejected by Brussels.
On Tuesday, the Turkish government dismissed over 15,000 civil servants and shut down 375 additional institutions and nine more media outlets in an expanding political crackdown against opponents and critics of different political creed. With two new emergency decrees issued on Tuesday, military officers, police, tax inspectors, doctors, nurses and even midwives joined the ranks of the dismissed.
Nearly 2,000 members of the armed forces, 7,600 police officers, 400 members of the gendarmerie, and more than 5,000 public workers, including nurses and engineers, were dismissed in Tuesday’s decrees, Reuters reported. Erdogan even signaled that more purges would follow. Erdogan’s government holds US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement responsible for the failed coup attempt, a charge denied by Gulen. The Turkish president vowed to go forward with further purges until cleansing the state of alleged Gulen sympathizers entirely.
The latest move set in motion a new chain of mutual recriminations between the Turkish and EU officials. Leaders of two leading groups in the European Parliament, the center-right European People’s Party, and the socialist group, both called for immediate suspension of talks with Turkey, citing gross human rights violations and endless crackdown.
The socialist group’s leader Gianni Pitella argued that Turkey, under Erdogan’s leadership, is sliding toward authoritarianism. “Our political message towards Turkey is that human rights, civil rights, democracy are non-negotiable if you want to be part of the EU,” he said.
Luxembourg, Austria and Greece have suggested freezing the negotiation process, but Germany and France urged caution, citing the fragile refugee deal which is critical to curbing the migration flow to Europe from Turkey’s western coasts. In return to Turkey’s collaboration to stop, or reduce, migration, the EU has promised to provide 3,2 billion euros as financial aid to shoulder Turkey’s burden.
Turkey is home to more than three million Syrian refugees and is economically struggling to cope with costs of hosting so many migrants who fled war in Iraq or Syria.
“I believe the best way to strengthening Turkey’s democracy — the most effective way — is engaging with Turkey, by keeping channels open,” the New York Times quoted EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “If the accession process came to an end, I believe, we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed EU foreign policy chief’s comments and underlined the importance of keeping communication channels with Turkey open. She rejected Ankara’s accusations that Germany hosts Kurdish militants.