We must fight side by side with the citizens of Turkey for what the Turkish civil society and pluralist political forces are struggling for: a European Turkey.
Good politics begins in the past, but never endures in the present. Whoever claims that Turkey will never be ready to be part of the European Union is stuck in the present day. But our perspective should never be the linear continuation of the actual situation. Instead, we should have a vision and we should fight for that vision. We measure this vision not by the present, but by the reality of future. And so we must fight side by side with the citizens of Turkey for what the Turkish civil society and pluralist political forces are struggling for: a European Turkey. This liberal Turkish society continues to be one of the liveliest in Europe and Asia, despite state repression. Strong opposition parties and good, democratically-minded connections to numerous European societies still exist. We can and we must build the future on all this, not on contemporary bilateral setbacks.
Yet these setbacks should not be trivialized. They are dramatic and have determined our agenda for years. Be it Turkey’s unilateral actions in the Eastern-Mediterranean and also in regards to the Cyprus conflict, ignoring the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul-Convention, the case to ban the HDP opposition party, or attacks on LGBTQI activists—these are only a few of our problem areas. EU-Turkey relations are bad these days. Looking from this perspective, the prospect for Turkey’s accession to the EU seems a long way off—for some, even impossible.
But this is precisely the right motivation for us. Not giving up and not casting Turkey away from the EU for evermore, as many parliamentary colleagues do. For a common future we must fight side by side with the civil society in Turkey. This cannot be done while looking for a positive agenda by hook or by crook, but rather do some straight talking and, with all our strength human rights, place democracy and the rule of law at the center of our efforts. The EU has an important role to play in this, because the EU needs Turkey right now, and vice versa. Our Turkish partners must understand the EU is no longer just a marketplace the size of a continent, but that it represents a community of like-minded individuals, whose common modus operandi is democracy. The accession process is the only appropriate platform in this regard. Only within this framework do Europeans have a say. That’s not the case if we reduce our relations to the level of being “good neighbors.” Only the accession process can provide a normative framework beyond “a peaceful coexistence” towards democratic convergence.
The priorities of this democratic convergence must include the following points. They can confirm the commitment of Turkish partners and substantiate a serious affirmation of democracy:
- A roadmap for Turkey’s re-entry to the Istanbul Convention. Only by doing this, can we secure the common normative framework of European values. Because for us, women’s rights are a litmus test for the earnestness of Turkey’s European aspirations!
- The release of the so many arbitrarily detained opposition members, human rights defenders, journalists, and academicians, such as Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, to name a few. Because for us, adherence to human rights and compliance with the decisions of the common human rights court are safeguards for common institutions as well as common values!
- The abandonment of all harassment of opposition parties and the ending of their suppression, as well as the termination of the ban process against the HDP, and the commitment to political and parliamentary pluralism. Because only if we can ensure political pluralism, will we be able to talk about common decisions as part of the EU in the future. The EU cannot allow a government to sit in the Council or to exist within the European Parliament that does not assume the principle of political plurality.
Progress in at least one of these three areas must be a prerequisite for any new EU-Turkey agenda moving forward. The renewal of the Customs Union, let alone the resumption of accession negotiations can and must complement these steps. But only complement, not stand in front of them because it is not the market, but democracy that constitutes the foundation for Turkey’s future as part of the EU.
At the same time, we also need to highlight for Turkey what the advantages of collaborating with the European Union entail.
The cooperation within the framework of the Green Deal could build such a basis. Our Turkish partners can and must demonstrate the ways in which, through serious common efforts and reforms in the energy and economy sectors, they can manage to avoid the disadvantages of the EU’s green transformation, and instead reverse it so that they can benefit from the transformation of our society, as well as with the help of the EU investments.
Needless to say, we also must continue the dialogue for the renewal of the Customs Union. It is an important priority for Turkey and one of the few remaining leverage points for the EU. Yet a mandate for the renewal of the Customs Union must unequivocally be attached to a strict conditionality regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights situation must be put at the center of this discussion, and regarding Turkey, it must be a key element in the formulation of future cooperation as well as measures.
If nothing else, we owe this to the people who struggle every single day for democracy and human rights in Turkey, and in doing so put their own freedoms at risk.