When European Commissioner and First Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans concluded his hastily negotiated deal with Turkey, the ALDE group was very critical. Opening negotiating chapters and paying 3 billion euros in the hope that Turkey will stop the flow of refugees is both cynical and shady. Furthermore, it is still an open question whether the deal will actually have the desired effect, especially now that the situation in Turkey itself is becoming more and more unstable.
Timmermans will soon return to Turkey to talk about the implementation of the deal. But he can not limit the agenda to that. Now that he has chosen to firmly strengthen the ties with Turkey, he must go all the way and also address the many other concerns and problems Turkey faces. The situation in Turkey is threatening to spiral out of control, yet the European Commission remains silent. Even since the deal with President Erdogan was hammered out, there has been a series of very worrying events, but Timmermans is looking away.
Again, journalists have been jailed. Can Dundar and Erdem Gul have been accused of espionage and leaking state secrets. They are alleged to have endangered the state by publishing photographs of trucks which were to deliver arms to IS, which the Turkish security service is said to have known about. As soon as a certain subject is controversial or sensitive, the Turkish government enforces a media ban.
Additionally, the escalating violence in South East Turkey, the Kurdish region, further shows that events have taken a turn for the worse. Even as the deal between the EU and Turkey was made, a prominent and internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer, Tahir Elci, was murdered in broad daylight. He had called for restarting peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government.
It is indeed crucial to reinitiate those talks. But neither President Erdogan, nor the AK party are taking any initiatives; on the contrary in fact. The President accused Selahattin Demirtas of the HDP, a party in which many Kurds are represented in parliament, of constitutional crimes. Not only is that a dangerous statement at this point in time, it is most of all proof that the President does not take the separation of powers seriously. He often speaks out personally against critical journalists and parliamentarians. Frequently, police and judges quickly follow the words of their President who is both feared and revered.
This is one of the chief concerns of the European Parliament of the past years: the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are increasingly under pressure and urgently need to be restored. But instead, the executive is becoming more and more aggressive. A case in point were Erdogan’s comments last week, in which he named Hitler’s Germany as an example of effectiveness of the ‘new Presidency’ which he aims to create. When the response was critical, he released a statement that the media had misinterpreted him.
The European Commission also seems to worry about Turkey, even though this criticism was postponed until after the deal with Turkey had been concluded. Another unacceptable choice. But now that the annual report on the state of play surrounding the accession process is finally on the table, the Turkish government has said that it will put it through the shredder if the EU does not work on this document together with Turkey from now on. Apparently Ankara believes it can also censure criticism from Brussels. If the EU wants to have a chance to retain its credibility, including among the Turkish population, it cannot remain silent now.
Timmermans must show the same determination with which he initially concluded the deal to curb migration when he goes to Ankara to address all of these concerns. Every day, the body count of the clashes between the government and the PKK is rising and the government has enforced a curfew for citizens that lasts weeks. The EU cannot afford a further escalation in the country which has the second largest army in NATO. If the country placed between the EU and Syria becomes increasingly unstable, Turkey will no longer be a part of the solution of the refugee crisis, it will become a part of the problem.
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