President Erdogan's letter and the EU's farcical reaction

One would certainly hope that this remarkable enthusiasm has nothing to do with the fear that Erdogan would unleash a refugee influx into European soil as he has threatened to in the recent past.

These are the days in which one never ceases to be amazed. The latest: The Delegation of the European Union to Turkey is extremely cheerful and filled with gratitude to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Thank you for your kind wishes, Mr President!” the delegation said in response to Erdogan’s letter the EU delivered on the occasion of May 9, Europe Day.

“We must make good use of the opportunities these tough days will present in order to revitalize the Turkey-EU relations,” Erdogan writes.

“I hope that the EU, which has assumed a discriminative and exclusionist attitude towards our country on various issues to this date, has now understood that we are all on the same boat... The participation of Turkey — a candidate for EU membership, negotiating [country], a part of the Customs Union, one of EU’s most important trade and investment partners — in all the measures and efforts that the Union will be taking during the course of, and following the pandemic, will render the EU nothing but stronger.”

The most amazing part of the text?

Here it is below:

“Apart from economic, political, security-wise and social contributions, the full membership of our country will bring a more participative and a more embracing vision to the European Union, and will turn it into a global actor. As Turkey, we are determined to attain full membership in the European Union, which we deem as our strategic objective in spite of all the hardships we run into during the negotiation process.”

References to full membership and determination? Wow.

If anyone, including those within the EU, were to take these words seriously at all, the message could have meant a complete change of heart, a sharp U-Turn from where the president and his men are pushing the country towards, an abyss where the only prospect is, as things currently stand, a profound social and economic upheaval.

There should be no surprise at all, that all the daydreamers, among them so-called think-tankers and analysts, will jump onboard and bombard us with rosy predictions, as if the country is only inches away from what Erdogan mentions as “full membership” in the bloc. They will undoubtedly proclaim that the happy ending is so very near. But never mind them.

The problem is less with his Excellency’s letter than the stupefying gullible cheers coming from the EU delegation. One would certainly hope that this remarkable enthusiasm has nothing to do with the fear that Erdogan would unleash a refugee influx into European soil as he has threatened to in the recent past.

The pitiful gratitude of Ambassador Christian Berger's EU Delegation in Ankara to the hypocritical letter of president Erdogan on the importance of Europe Day, as well as so-called EU-Turkey relations, is not only irrelevant when it comes to the sheer materiality of these relations, but also contradicts the very spirit of Europe. This by thanking the head of a totalitarian regime openly involved in wars in Libya, Syria and threatening constantly at least two EU member states.

As a matter of fact, the reality concerning Turkey's maddening systemic crisis, its evil-ridden domestic oppression and its nearly terminated relations with the European Union is tragically farcical. The signatory of the letter is the iron-willed ruler of Turkey, which was declared an “autocracy” and “de facto dictatorship” by the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index 2020. I am sure Berger and his team in Ankara, as well as the top-level EU commission figures in Brussels, are aware of this unignorable verdict.

What is “Europe Day”? It is the coronation of the WWII victory over Nazism and sublimation of peace in the continent. With the motto “never again”, Europeans took an unbiased stand against warmongering totalitarian ideologies. They set the foundation of a historic union, eliminating physical and mental boundaries.

These are the times of an extraordinary global crisis. Let us be serious. President Erdogan, about to complete his unstoppable journey towards a Central Asia-type totalitarian rule, may be thinking he can swing and turn whichever direction his desires. He may hope that the European leaders, whom he called Nazis, suffer from amnesia. He may find value in his cat-and-mouse game, but the EU side could be honest, openhearted, outspoken, determined and straightforward in its approach.

The letter serves as a grand opportunity to remind Erdogan and his ally from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahçeli, and the administrative team, what sort of tasks the full membership pledge requires of Ankara.

Here are some necessary steps expected of the Turkish president that will start convincing people across the world of his determination vis-a-vis EU membership:

• Prepare the groundwork for a democratic constitution, which will guarantee basic rights and freedoms with no “ifs” and “buts”; make possible for Turkey to return to a parliamentary democracy; initiate decentralisation of the administration.

• Return the rights of all the state institutions to operate in good faith, merit and relevant autonomy. Begin with central bank.

• Re-establish the system of checks and balances.

• Re-establish the separation of powers.

• Declare general amnesty. There are more than 50,000 political prisoners in the country. Release all who have not been involved in violent political crimes, the 2016 coup attempt and Islamist terror acts.

• The COVID-19 crisis and post-pandemic era will require even less identity politics. It will demand deeper interdependency across the borders. One basic EU value, marked in the Copenhagen Criteria, is good neighbourly relations. Stop harassing Greece and Cyprus on irredentist grounds. Stop using militarist language. Don't invent and escalate conflicts. Go back to the negotiation table. Seek a middle ground instead of applying maximalism.

• Stop threatening the EU by using the refugees as pawns and hostages in an arm-wrestling match.

• Stop demonising and oppressing domestic opposition groups. You are the president of a nation, not only of a party. If you are serious about a full membership in the European Union, act accordingly and carry Turkey into a new era.

Yavuz Baydar is a senior Turkish columnist, and news analyst. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) in Istanbul, he has been reporting on Turkey and monitoring media issues since 1980. A European Press Prize Laureate in 2014, he is also the winner of Germany's 'Journalistenpreis' in 2018.

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