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EP shadow rapporteur suggests response to rule of despotism in Turkey

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Dr. Renate Sommer, a German Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament since 1999 and and also the European People’s Party’s (EPP) standing rapporteur on Turkey, has suggested how to respond to the rule of despotism in Turkey in an editorial published Friday on the Vocal Europe website, saying, “… if the EU keeps feeding carrots without ever using the stick, it will lose its credibility and betray its own values” and adding that it’s “high time” for the EU to act.

Stating that those who counted on the balancing power of the Turkish justice system have been deeply disappointed, Sommer, citing controversial rulings by local courts said, “Those examples show that Turkey is not governed by the rule of law but by the rule of despotism.”

The editorial in its entirety is as follows:

The state of the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey is shocking. Since the failed coup, the Turkish government misuses the steadily prolonged state of emergency to silence critics from all fields. Members of the opposition, journalists, human rights activists, academics and others are arrested on ridiculous grounds.

Those who counted on the balancing power of the Turkish Justice system were deeply disappointed. Lower courts ignored the rulings by the Turkish constitutional court to release the journalists Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay. The decision to release human rights activist Taner Kilic was withdrawn only several hours after the ruling became public. Those examples show that Turkey is not governed by the rule of law but by the rule of despotism.

”Unbelievably many critics lost their jobs. Especially entrepreneurs who were members of the Gulen Movement were expropriated, their companies closed or nationalized, and sold by the state.”

Interestingly, and this is not well known outside Turley, this expropriation began even before the coup attempt. Meanwhile one third of all lawyers and judges, one tenth of the police force, 110.000 officials and teachers and 5000 academics were simply laid-off. All of those people are left with nothing. From one minute to the other, they lost their pension rights, have no financial support at all and cannot find a new job. The atmosphere in the Turkish population is poisoned by a network of informants on alleged Gulen members and on critics against the government or the president. There is an overall climate of fear.

As member of the Joint-Parliamentary Committee and Standing EPP Rapporteur on Turkey, I have been criticizing the developments in Turkey for many years. The events after the coup, however, made things much worse. There is broad media coverage on cases of EU citizens arrested for no reasons and EU governments have issued travel warnings for Turkey. More and more European citizens are wondering what the EU and its Member States do to end this madness. Ordinary citizens do not understand how the EU can continue accession negotiations with a country that disrespects all European basic rights and values.

For the part of the European Parliament I can say that we have done all that is in our power to react to the developments in Turkey. Usually, we adopt our position on the situation in this country only once a year as reaction to the annual report by the European Commission. In our latest resolution on that Commission report from July 2017, we already asked the Commission and the Member States to suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey. This is the sharpest language the Parliament ever chose.

However, given that there are shocking news about human rights violations on a daily basis, in February we felt obliged to take stance again on the events in Turkey in a separate resolution on human rights. The aim of that resolution was to draft a short and concise text that names the most striking human rights violations.

”All us Standing Group Rapporteurs on Turkey agreed that it would be an inflation of names if we would list all prominent Turkish and EU citizens that have been arrested. Therefore, we decided just to name some of them, representing all the others, without any hidden agenda not to mention e.g. Gulen Movement members or Kurds.”

For me as a German MEP it was of course important to have the German Journalist Deniz Yücel mentioned in the resolution, because he represented the European hostages of the Turkish Government. It has become clear that the Turkish government does not only fight against PKK terrorists anymore,

”…but that the witch-hunt is directed against alleged Gulen members and anybody who dares to criticize the government. Even doctors, who simply criticized the negative humanitarian aspect of the fight against the Kurds in Syria, have become victims.”

Unfortunately, the European Parliament does not have much of a say when it comes to foreign affairs matters, as those are not yet part of the common policy areas. Our recommendation to suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey has been rejected by most Member States. It seems that they fear that such a move could endanger the EU-Turkey deal on refugees. They are obviously scared that President Erdogan might retaliate by opening up the borders thus throwing the EU into a second refugee crisis.

I personally do not share this fear. First, President Erdogan has elections to win and cannot afford images of dead bodies drowned in the Aegean Sea. Secondly, the EU has much better prepared for a possible new refugee crisis. Third, President Erdogan does not want his country to become an EU Member State. He needs the candidate status only to attract foreign investors. Nevertheless, these are holding back anyway, because there is no property guarantee any more in the country.

”However, there are other means to exert real influence on the Turkish Government. The economy of Turkey is in free fall.”

In the latest misery index published by the reputable Bloomberg agency and sums inflation and unemployment outlooks for 66 economies, Turkey ranks as the fifth most miserable economy. The lack of the rule of law and human rights violations deter both, tourists and foreign investors.

The agreement between the European Parliament and the Council to cut and re-direct the pre-accession funds away from the Turkish government to civil society organizations was therefore a first important step.

However, the EU should also use the Customs Union to exert pressure. In this context, the European Parliament already asked for a constitutionality with the view on human rights and the rule of law for the current Customs Union. Nevertheless, the Turkish Government is even urgently pushing to modernize, in plain language to extend the Customs Union as this could lead to an increase of exports to the EU by 70 percent. For agricultural products, the increase could even be as high as 95 percent.

”President Erdogan urgently needs new economic success to be re-elected. If the EU refuses to extend the Customs Union this would be a sensitive strike against him.”

To put things in a nutshell: No other candidate country could get away with the kind of violations of human rights and the rule of law that we witness in Turkey on a daily basis. Yes, we know that Turkey is an important neighbour of the EU and that we share several common interests, such as energy supply, border security and the fight against Daesh. Moreover, of course we have to keep up the dialogue. However, if the EU keeps feeding carrots without ever using the stick, it will lose its credibility and betray its own values. It is high time to act for the EU!

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