The EU should listen to Turkish demonstrators and engage

Since the demonstrations broke out in Turkey last week, an unprecedented number of articles have been published highlighting the deeper causes of people’s grievances.

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch member of the European Parliament (D66/ALDE Group)

Since the demonstrations broke out in Turkey last week, an unprecedented number of articles have been published highlighting the deeper causes of people’s grievances.

Many analyses suggest that the problems with the rule of law, good governance, democracy and fundamental rights were apparent long before the chants of demonstrators brought them to the surface. But if the problems were so clear, why were so few articles with this focus published before?

In Turkey we know of the lack of press freedom, and of (self) censorship, but in the EU and the US the economic success and the ambitious role of Turkey in the region seemed more attractive stories than the deep polarization in society.

The demonstrations should be a real wake-up call to prime minister Erdogan and his government, that disregard for the different voices in politics and society has reached its limits. But from Washington to Brussels, the demonstrations too should be a wake-up call. Have we done enough? And what should we do in the short and long term?

It has taken EU leaders too long to condemn in unequivocal terms, the harsh crackdown of peaceful demonstrations by the police. Some have also used the demonstrations to create momentum to proclaim Turkey can never join the European Union. Despite my steadfast criticism of the flaws in Turkey’s democracy and the rule of law over the past years, this conclusion would be a mistake. Instead of estranging Turkey, we must embrace the opportunity of a tipping point towards greater freedoms, and push for reforms that both benefit people now, and the accession process tomorrow.

In the short term there must be an end to police violence, and an investigation into what happened, to hold abusers accountable, and to prevent a repetition in the future.

The Turkish media’s initial hesitation to report on the demonstrations at all has been visible and acknowledged all over the world. It is essential that there are clear safeguards provided that ensure media freedom and independence from now on. There should be no more censorship, neither online nor offline. The cases of previously imprisoned journalists need to be reviewed, those unjustly imprisoned must immediately be released.

The EU must offer to facilitate dialogue between the government and different opposition parties and movements. The expectations of the government should be clear, we expect tangible engagement to ensure the rule of law, pluralism, democracy and fundamental rights for all people in Turkey. This will require a lower threshold for political parties, so that more people in Turkey can feel politically represented.

Opening negotiation chapters 23 and 24 is a good step to address the rule of law and fundamental rights. The EU has already announced that these elements of the negotiations will be the first to be addressed, and the last to be concluded. This puts the appropriate emphasis on these chapters of negotiations. The previously voiced concerns with due process and fair trial must be reiterated and repeated.

It would help if the opposition parties and movements would become more professional, so that the revolutionary impact of the calls for pluralism and democracy are sustained and don’t fade or end in internal quarrels.

It is not too late for the AK Party government to engage with opponents, and to seek deep reforms. But it will require a major step by prime minister Erdogan, over his own shadow. Just as the demonstrations should serve as a wake up call for him and his government, the EU too should rethink the way it engages with the Turkish government and the population at large.

Instead of turning our backs, and pulling the plug, we should step forward ambitiously. The demonstrations have shown that there is wide support for the kinds of rights and freedoms that are also essential for EU accession.

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3 Responses to “The EU should listen to Turkish demonstrators and engage”

  1. Emre

    It does not look like Erdogan is answering the wake-up call, instead he keeps being stubborn. Even today he told the media that he is not even stepping back from his decision to bring Gezi Park down! Everyone including his own party is worried. Some people already question his mental health.

  2. Dolce Vita

    He is used to reign as an all-powerful master of all things and events and people. The people around him have contributed to his visions of grandeur, with statements such as: When he is on TV, the TV should not be on the floor, but elevated, or: his birth place is holy, etc, other statements are: he is bigger than Ataturk, he should be caliph or prophet … So, I believe he will persevere, even go ahead with the Taksim Sq Complex. Behind the scenes, there is much riding on this complex, lotsa money and power games, so he won’t give it up. But whether he will be able to change the Constitution and give himself greater powers… well, this is dicey, I think. But then, who is to say …. he will travel as far as destiny allows him to. And then one day, he will fall perhaps … or perhaps not.

  3. Yunus


    I just can’t believe what’s happing to Turkey at the moment, this is crazy and stupid of young people shaming Turkey what the hell are they looking for, they are just acting like senseless animals and why because Erdohan say he want’s to restrict alcohol sales and so what’s wrong in this, how come most of the older generation are not making much trouble, because what they hear and what has been said is right by Erdohan, as in, e.g. or in United Kingdom and Europe alcohol restriction is already in force and Legalised and it works why shouldn’t it work in Turkey, as has got nothing to do with Muslim Law or Islamism right, just get real. To much freedom with alcohol in your blood system causes harm and damage to the brain, haven’t the young Turkish generation realised this or are they so thick and lacking in grey matter.Please DON’T spoil Turkey’s name over a small matter this can be solved in a sensible manner,Erdohan was not born yesterday nor was the Great Aturtuk these people know Turkey and it’s people back to front or the Turkish public would not have wotted them to be in power,please..please I bag you to be sensible and more understanding.This does not mean Tunisia did it so can Turkey,well let me tell you Tunisia or Egypt are no better of or moved any forward nor they have any better economy and this a fact please learn from past mistake before it is to late tamam.

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