Turk­ish-EU Talks Rekin­dle Mem­ber­ship, Hu­man Rights Hopes

The Jewish Voice - - INTERNATIONAL - By: Do­rian Jones

Euro­pean Union and Turk­ish of­fi­cial are sched­uled to meet in Brus­sels Tues­day to try and put Turkey’s decades-long, on-again, off-ag in bid to join the EU back on track.

Turk­ish-EU re­la­tions re­cently hit one of their low­est ebbs fol­low­ing a bit­ter war of words be­tween Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Brus­sels over his con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum to ex­tend his pow­ers. Th lat­est ef­fort to re­set ties was the fruit of Er­do­gan’s visit to Brus­sels af­ter his April ref­er­en­dum vic­tory.

“It’s very en­cour­ag­ing be­cause it shows both sides are will­ing to main­tain di­a­logue," said Unal Ce­vikoz, a re­tired Turk­ish am­bas­sador to Lon­don who now heads the Ankara Pol­icy Fo­rum re­search group.

"If the di­a­logue is in­ter­rupted, then it will be very dif­fi­cult to start that kind of con­tact again. Th y [Er­do­gan and EU lead­ers] have also agreed on a road map which will con­tinue for one year and, in this road map, that cer­tain steps ... have to be taken, step by step."

Shared in­ter­ests in dealing with the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and re­gional se­cu­rity con­cerns have pro­vided a pow­er­ful in­cen­tive to re­set re­la­tions. Brus­sels hopes that will give it new lever­age to press Ankara over its on­go­ing crack­down fol­low­ing a coup at­tempt last July. Th crack­down has re­sulted in more than 100,000 peo­ple los­ing their jobs and the ar­rests of more than 50,000 oth­ers, in­clud­ing many pres­i­den­tial crit­ics.

“There is a se­ri­ous at­tempt in Turkey by pro-demo­cratic forces to keep the demo­cratic flag fly­ing, and sup­port from democrats and demo­cratic regimes around the world, in­clud­ing the EU, is needed,” said Al-Mon­i­tor colum­nist Semih Idiz “But pres­sure from Europe on this score, un­less ac­com­pa­nied by some tan­gi­ble car­rot, will not have many re­sults and could ag­gra­vate the sit­u­a­tion fur­ther.”

Er­do­gan is press­ing for the open­ing of new EU mem­ber­ship chap­ters (i.e., statutes). Cur­rently, 16 out of the 35 mem­ber­ship chap­ters re­quired to join the EU have been opened and only one has been com­pleted.

“The pri­or­ity should be Chap­ters 23 and 24 be­cause th­ese are very much in re­la­tion to jus­tice and ju­di­ciary, the rule of law, fun­da­men­tal rights and free­doms,” said Ce­vikoz.

The call to open Chap­ters 23 and 24 is backed by Turkey's main op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party, along with hu­man rights groups. Open­ing those chap­ters is op­posed by the Greek Cypriot govern­ment in con­nec­tion with its on­go­ing dis­pute with Ankara over the di­vided Mediter­ranean is­land. Other EU mem­bers, how­ever, pri­vately say not open­ing those chap­ters would be ex­ploited by Er­do­gan.

The e are grow­ing doubts over Brus­sels' com­mit­ment to con­fronting Ankara over its hu­man rights record. "The role of ap­pease­ment is not go­ing to work with Turkey,” said Emma Sin­clair-Webb, se­nior Turkey re­searcher for the U.S.-based Hu­man Rights Watch.

"It’s no good for the EU to turn a blind eye to the head of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional in Turkey be­ing jailed, to the crack­down in civil so­ci­ety in Turkey, the way the me­dia has been dec­i­mated in Turkey,” she said.

Last week, Taner Kilic, the head of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional in Turkey, was charged with sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism in con­nec­tion with July’s failed coup and jailed.

Sin­clair-Webb added that “the EU is much more fo­cused on keep­ing refugees and mi­grants out of EU and on coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­op­er­a­tion, and all of that has put hu­man rights very much on the back burner for the EU.”

Last March, Ankara signed an agree­ment with Brus­sels to stem the fl w of mil­lions of mi­grants and refugees en­ter­ing the EU. Er­do­gan has re­peat­edly threat­ened to end the deal, ac­cus­ing Brus­sels of fail­ing to honor its com­mit­ment to grant visa-free travel for Turks to the EU. Keep­ing the deal alive is widely seen as a pri­or­ity for Brus­sels.

EU mem­bers are also court­ing Ankara for greater se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion in the war against Is­lamic State. Turkey, which bor­ders Syria and Iraq, is the main route for ji­hadists seek­ing to en­ter Europe. Ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties, the sui­cide bomber re­spon­si­ble for last month's blast out­side of a con­cert in Manch­ester en­tered the UK via Is­tan­bul, while one of the as­sailants in this month's at­tack in Lon­don tried last year to en­ter Syria by trav­el­ing to Is­tan­bul.

An­a­lysts say Turkey's role in coun­tert­er­ror­ism will grow with Is­lamic State fac­ing de­feat in Iraq and Syria. Many Euro­pean ji­hadists are ex­pected to try and re­turn home.

Cen­giz Ak­tar, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and ex­pert on Euro­pean aff irs, said “EU-Turk­ish re­la­tions will be re­vised com­pletely in com­ing months."

"Turkey’s re­la­tion­ship will be lim­ited to the refugee deal and an en­hanced free trade agree­ment," he added. "Not only will the Turk­ish regime not let the EU med­dle in Turk­ish pol­i­tics, but the Euro­peans are not in­ter­ested in saving Turk­ish democ­racy. Th y [Ankara and Brus­sels] both agree on that.”

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan (L) stands with Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk be­fore a meet­ing at the Euro­pean Coun­cil in Brus­sels, Bel­gium, May 25, 2017.

Turk­ish-EU re­la­tions re­cently hit one of their low­est ebbs fol­low­ing a bit­ter war of words be­tween Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Brus­sels over his con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum to ex­tend his pow­ers.

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