"Turkey-EU relations exponentially decelerated especialy after Gezi Park protests"

JTW team held an interview with USAK Center for European Union Studies expert Mustafa Kutlay, analyzing the Gezi Park protests as regards to the Turkey-EU relations. Kutlay stated that EU’s remarks concerning the Gezi Park protests are not particularly resulted from Turkey’s stance. He stressed that this issue is linked with the fundamental rights and freedoms which are assured in the EU’s legal texts.


Some EU leaders and representatives of EU institutions expressed their opinions, to some extent their condemnations and critics. What sort of reflections do you think will arise?


Most of EU’s critics are based on the EU acquis. As you know, there are some articles in EU legal documents ensuring the fundamental rights and freedoms. The Gezi Protests were analyzed in this framework. The demonstrations appeared as a demand for freedom. People stated that they conserved their right to speak concerning the city they lived in. The critical point here was that the demonstrations took place in a peaceful way and in accordance with the right to demonstration. The rigorous interference of the riot police was the breaking point. Even after that phase, implementation of violent police force continued contentiously.


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Other important dynamics that caused the protests to go off the rail was the mingling of some marginal groups who resorted to the use of force and disrupted public order. We saw that EU institutions dispatched critics to Turkey at his point. Following this, Turkey’s harsh response pointed to a new juncture during the crisis. In the following period, it is possible to see the maintenance of the protests’ negative effect, at least for a while, on EU-Turkey relations.


As regards to human rights and freedoms, Turkey accused the EU several times with applying double standards. What is your opinion on this subject? 


In terms of EU acquis, violent use of force by security forces was a point worthy of criticism. EU institutions also stressed on this situation. It should be underlined that this situation is not peculiar to Turkey. In other words, saying “this is unfair to Turkey and a double standard, they ignore what is happening in other places but only criticize us” is, I suppose, a consequence of not following the EU very closely. For instance, Hungary, a member state, is in a process of making a constitution which involves severely autocratic inclinations. Several EU institutions have therefore criticized the Hungarian Prime Minister and the supporters of this Constitution; moreover, discussions considering the suspension of membership are taking place. Thus, this issue is not peculiar to Turkey. Yet, it is not possible to say that the EU gives equal importance to each incident. For example, the Neo-Nazi investigations in Germany and racist parties in the EU member states seeking support by racist discourses such as Golden Dawn in Greece, are not harshly criticized. In this regard, it is seen that EU institutions sometimes rightfully face critics of applying double standards.


You mentioned the examples of Hungary and Greece, but they are both member states. Do the critics of the EU institutions in this case present an intervention to the domestic affairs of Turkey?


From the Turkish perception, the decisive point that prevents us from approaching the issue as an intervention to domestic affairs is that Turkey is a candidate country. Turkey wants to achieve full-membership – albeit there is not a considerable progress today. Each year, progress reports about Turkey are being published and EU is closely following the developments in Turkey. So, Turkey is in a partnership relation. In this context, if the statements of the EU institutions are considered as a direct intervention to domestic affairs, Turkey’s membership process must be discussed anew. If these statements are construed to be an intervention and therefore improper, the membership process must be fundamentally argued as well.


In this case, how can the harsh reaction of the Turkish government to the EP’s Gezi Park decision be explained?


Turkey-EU relations, mainly after 2006, are exponentially losing its acceleration. A “name is there but self is lost” sort of relation exists to this day. As a result, Turkish decision-makers’ tendencies to reject the EU-rooted critics increased. Because the alternative costs of such reactions are rather low. Instant rejections of the EU critics basically reveal that EU lost its transforming power in Turkish politics and Turkish foreign policy.


The response of the Turkish side might be found extreme. But it is seen that EU, too, made vital mistakes concerning Turkey-EU relations. In fact, Turkey took numerous initiatives to proceed with the negotiation process. Likewise, it proposed alternative resolutions about the Cyprus issue. EU’s stance regarding the Cyprus issue was “Some steps forward may be taken only if the Turkish side of the island says 'yes' to the Annan Plan”. The isolation over the Turkish population was to be lifted, direct trade by law was to be enforced and the developmental gap in-between was to be closed. But the EU did not do any of these. When the Greek side became a member state and the representative of the whole island; the Southern Cyprus, together with Greece, gained the power to veto.


On the other hand, the German and French axis, particularly during Sarkozy term, took a categorically anti-Turkey stance and endeavored to keep Turkey out of the Union. The whole process was comprehended as being gradually excluded from the EU ring by Turkey. Up until now, numerous opportunities concerning the acceleration of the membership process and enhancing cooperation during the Arab Spring or the Euro crisis were missed. In brief, the exclusionist policies of the Germany-France axis focusing on keeping Turkey at bay, and unopened negotiation chapters due to political reasons culminated in the disposal of Turkey. The European decision-makers should address themselves for the underlying causes of the failures. I believe the EU officials, apart from their reactions, should ask themselves “Why are we at this point, and why have the relations with Turkey deteriorated?” and resort to self-criticism.


Mustafa Kutlay is an analyst at the USAK Center for European Union Studies. His main academic interests are international political economy, economies of Europe and Turkey, Turkey-EU relations, Greece, and the Cyprus issue.