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Pierini: Turkish rule of law rolled back, away from EU standards 26 janvier 2015

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) Monday, January 26, 2015, p. 6

Yonca Poyraz Doğan, Istanbul

As Turkey’s rule of law has been rolling back, there is also a discrepancy between what the leaders of Turkey say about their intentions for accession to the European Union and what the reality is, said this week’s guest for Monday Talk.

“For the past 13 months, the rule of law has been rolled back, and has been rolled back in such a way that it is not moving towards but away from the EU standards. That’s the plain reality,” said Marc Pierini, formerly an EU ambassador and head of the delegation to Turkey in 2006-2011, and currently a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

Pierini added that Turkish democracy is legitimate because of the presidential and legislative elections for a European observer, but in the EU context of liberal democracy, there is much more than just the elections for legitimacy:

“In the EU context of liberal democracy, there is much more than just the elections. There are all sorts of mechanisms that have to be in place to accommodate cultural and social diversity in a society — you have consultations with the civil society, you have local governance, you have a role for professional associations and, of course, one example is Gezi. A victory in the elections of 2011, in the context of a liberal democracy, does not give the ruling party a mandate to change a park in one city. It has to be linked to local democratic mechanisms.”

Answering our questions in İstanbul, while he joined the 5th İstanbul Forum on Jan. 18-20, he elaborated on the issue and more.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently said that Turkey will work toward integration with Europe. Some observers said that the prime minister’s words were defying criticism that Turkey is diverting from the EU path. The question is: Were his words reflecting the reality?

Seen from Brussels, it was striking that as soon as the Davutoğlu government was formed, there was a statement about the EU objective of Turkey, and remarkably soon after, in September, there was an EU strategy paper for Turkey. Then, the EU minister, Volkan Bozkır, came to Brussels once a month. The words and intentions are there, but the problem is the mismatch between the announced intentions and what’s happening in Turkey. For the past 13 months, the rule of law has been rolled back, and has been rolled back in such a way that it is not moving towards but away from the EU standards. That’s the plain reality. During reciprocated visits from EU high-level officials and politicians to Turkey, EU or national visitors do not get a sense, either, that Turkey is moving towards the EU.Rather, there are strong statements against the EU by the Turkish leadership, essentially for domestic reasons. However, the domestic scene and the EU scene are not separated because the accession process implies convergence and alignment with the EU policies. The best intentioned politicians in the EU do not see such convergence happening right now. Will it be reversed? We shall see, but we don’t see it at the moment. And there is a paradox.

What is it?

Most other compartments of the relationship have increased tremendously in the past few years. There are economic and trade relations; there is strong cooperation on counter-terrorism; there is progress made on the visa roadmap; and Erasmus and similar programs are working extremely well. There are a lot of things happening, but you don’t see that convergence expected from an accession country.

Is Turkey now being seen by the EU as a strategic partner but not as an accession candidate anymore?

That’s been an academic consideration. By virtue of its geography, by virtue of its NATO membership, by virtue of the chaotic situation in the Middle East and beyond, Turkey has been a strategic partner for the EU for a long time. That’s an obvious fact and Turkey will always be a strategic partner. The problem is that if you want to have both the strategic discussion and the membership prospective in the EU during the accession process, you have to make your foreign policy and other policies converge with the EU. We’re not seeing this. I am not saying that foreign policy with Syria and Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIL] or economic reforms are a very simple thing to do; we all agree that it is immensely complex and very challenging. However, at least, you have to see eye to eye on key subjects, all the more so if Turkey is an accession country. More generally, I don’t think that strategic partnership is an alternative to accession. The current situation in the region is one of shifting priorities. I remember telling Turkish officials in September that counter-terrorism cooperation is now the number one subject for the EU and Turkey for years to come — even more so after the Paris attacks. So, what’s needed is to make progress in those compartments of the dense EU-Turkey relationship where progress is feasible.

‘Muslims turn to European authorities against Islamophobia’

After coming back from the march in Paris, Prime Minister Davutoğlu said that he and the world leaders not only marched against terrorism but also xenophobia and racism in Europe. Was that how it was perceived in Europe, too?

Turkey puts a lot of emphasis on racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. But the fact is that the spirit of the march was both against terrorism and in favor of freedom of expression. The debate about Islamophobia is immensely complex. I was among the first to write in Europe that there is a distinct sensitivity about caricatures of the Prophet. I even wrote that the fact that this magazine and others produced caricatures of the Pope does not makes caricatures of the Prophet acceptable to Muslims. Even in Europe, the Charlie Hebdo brand of satire is very specific, and 40 percent of the French people do not approve of that — the pope does not, either, by the way. So there is a debate in Europe. But, this being said, no one in France and in the EU is going to accept that terrorists will dictate the agenda of our freedoms. If on a Sunday, you have that many people on the streets, even in villages, about  4 million in a country of 65 million, it means that there is a deeply rooted feeling. So, make no mistake, there was something against terrorism and for freedom of expression. Then about the debate on the sensitivities of Muslims, it is true that there is a deficit of knowledge about Islam in France and Europe.

As Turkish leaders often refer to Islamophobia as the cause and result of such attacks, does it make it more difficult to address the problem of Islamophobia in France or Europe?

When you have events like this, it’s very difficult to prevent amalgamation, and therefore Islamophobia, and some political parties will use that, especially the extreme right parties. If extreme right parties play that game, rightist parties will try to catch on. There is a danger to it. At the same time, if you saw who was on the streets on that Sunday when the demonstrations took place in France and elsewhere in Europe, there were a lot of Muslims. Many Muslims have been integrated into the society in Europe and are willing to spend their full lives there; there are many professional Muslims in government, business, army or police. They have nothing to do with the jihadists, so they see Islamophobia as a risk for themselves. But they don’t turn to Turkey to solve that problem or to defend themselves; they turn to the French and European authorities and schools.

‘I regret Mr. Sarkozy’s handling of Turkey’

You left Turkey in 2011.

Yes, December 2011.

You’ve been still observing developments in Turkey, this time from Brussels. I read some of the interviews that you gave in the meantime; there is a kind of disappointment in your words about where Turkey is headed. Am I reading that right?

It is true that we are not today where we were in 2005 when the negotiations were launched or at the end of 2006, when I arrived in Turkey. And for quite some time, while the roadblocks on the accession process were rather technical, there was no doubt about the Turkish intentions. Then, gradually — I don’t put a date on it — there was a divergence, gradually, perhaps since the elections of June 2011, and other subsequent events — Gezi, the Dec. 17 [2013] issues, etc. European observers in general have seen a divergence. This might be for domestic political reasons, and we know politics is always domestic. I don’t say that European leaders are immune from criticism; I’m French and I regret the way former President Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy handled — for his own reasons — Turkey in a very abrupt way. That’s past and I don’t say that it will never come back, but I know there is certain resentment about that in Turkey. But populist statements are the same everywhere and some countries exploit it.

The bottom line is that there is not going to be a substandard criterion for Turkey’s accession. Some people may think that because Turkey is so strategic in the regional context or in the fight against terrorism, then, Turkey deserves to be a member. But Turkey needs to meet the criteria: political aspects, like rule of law, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the media; and technical aspects, like public procurement or competition policy — and we are not there now. We are less there today then three or four years ago. It will take an immense effort to go back to the right track.

Do you see this lingering for a long time if there is no change or do you see suspension of Turkey’s membership at some point?

People mention suspension, but I don’t believe in suspension because I haven’t seen in my career that governments like to declare their policy a failure; no government likes that. Secondly, an alive EU accession process means that there are benefits to Turkey. It means better rating by financial agencies, a good image with the banking and investment world — therefore, foreign direct investment and technology flowing in — and trade developing. Above all, there is no credible alternative. Remember that the EU provides about 75 or 80 percent of direct private investment in Turkey. Do you see technology coming from Russia apart from the nuclear plant? Do you see technology coming from the Gulf countries? Do you see large investment from China or India? No. So the accession process, even though it moves slowly, has benefits for Turkey, and as far as I know, Turkish business people are keen that it continues.

‘EU will push for better democracy in Turkey’

Do you think the EU members have suspended Turkey’s membership prospects in their minds?

I don’t use the word suspension for the reasons I mentioned, and I don’t think Turkey will jump out of the boat. But what I see is that, all politics being local, there is a rise in populism in Turkey and in many EU countries. This might be detrimental to the accession process because if you add up the most extreme statements on both sides, it will not move the accession process forward. At the same time, there is a long-term interest on both sides.

The important thing here is the direction of Turkey’s democracy. In the eyes of a European observer, Turkish democracy is legitimate because of the presidential and legislative elections. The difference emerges because, in the EU context of liberal democracy, there is much more than just the elections. There are all sorts of mechanisms that have to be in place to accommodate cultural and social diversity in a society — you have consultations with the civil society, you have local governance, you have a role for professional associations and, of course, one example is Gezi. A victory in the elections of 2011, in the context of a liberal democracy, does not give the ruling party a mandate to change a park in one city. It has to be linked to local democratic mechanisms.

Will the EU continue to push for more democracy in Turkey?

In my view, there is no reason why the EU will stop commenting on events linked to Turkey’s governance, simply because it is its duty in the context of the accession process. This is the rule of the accession process. So, yes, the EU will push for better democracy in Turkey.

What do you think of the opposition parties’ willingness, especially the main opposition in Turkey, to continue with the EU accession process?

A striking difference between Turkey and Central European countries at the time of their accession negotiations is that, here, opposition parties do not get involved in the accession process. What we saw in Central Europe is that, whenever a government tabled a reform in response to EU requirements, one or more opposition parties would table a counter-proposal. This is normal because the accession process is for everybody and it should trigger a debate in parliament.

‘We don’t use conspiracy theories’

What do the EU leaders think of the “parallel state” claims of the Turkish ruling party in regards to the Gülen movement (Hizmet movement)?

We don’t even look at it because our politicians don’t use conspiracy theories. In addition, for the EU institutions, we are talking about a non-political actor. The Gülen community is not a party — we don’t know the governance; we don’t know their finances; and we don’t know their program except from general statements. The EU leaders are aware of its existence but have never dealt with the Gülen community as a political interlocutor because it is not. On the other hand, the EU governments, political parties and ambassadors deal with the opposition parties as they do anywhere in the world.

The EU has called for a thorough investigation following the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal. What does the end of the investigation, before it started, show?

Yes, the EU leaders have called for a thorough investigation. So far, the investigation of the Dec. 17 allegations in Turkey showed that the rule of law is at a lower level than before. The EU institutions have made a number of official statements about that.

‘Hard to conduct Alliance of Civilizations events’

What’s the significance of Spain’s suspension of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative that was started in 2005?

To my knowledge, suspension has not been announced by Spain. But, because Spain and Turkey were at the origin of the Alliance of Civilizations, this rumor struck people. It’s perhaps a wider issue than just those two countries. It is true that it is very difficult to conduct events under the banner of the Alliance of Civilizations while you have terrorist attacks and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) — not so much just for Spain and Turkey but the entire group of countries.

 

Profile

Marc Pierini

Formerly an EU ambassador and head of the delegation to Turkey (2006-2011), Pierini currently is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, where his research focuses on developments in the Middle East and Turkey from a European perspective.

Pierini was a career EU diplomat from December 1976 to April 2012. He was also an ambassador to Tunisia and Libya (2002-2006), Syria (1998-2002) and Morocco (1991-1995). He served as the first coordinator for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or the Barcelona Process, from 1995 to 1998, and was the main negotiator for the release of the Bulgarian hostages from Libya in 2004-2007. Pierini served as counselor in the cabinet of two European commissioners: Claude Cheysson, from 1979 to 1981, and Abel Matutes, from 1989 to 1991.

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