Brussels, Paris and Berlin

Date posted: February 18, 2014

Ali Yurttagül*

I think this was the first time when real progress was made in discussions over Turkish-EU ties in two weeks of meetings. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Brussels on Jan. 21, 2014; one week later, French President François Hollande made his long-expected visit to Ankara. One week after this visit from Paris, the Turkish prime minister flew to Berlin.
The European press showed greater interest than usual in these visits and, therefore, numerous articles were written about their purpose and significance. The comments were generally about the graft probe of Dec. 17 and the economic crisis affecting Turkey. As the Turkish prime minister opted to market the graft probe as a coup attempt against his government and accused the Hizmet movement of masterminding this coup, interest was aroused in the Hizmet movement and its clout.

Before flying to Brussels, Erdoğan had told reporters that he would inform the EU authorities of the “parallel state” and, returning to the country, said the EU was “convinced” about the parallel state. I will discuss whether they were convinced or not below. But the attitude Ankara adopted regarding the corruption claims, at a time when developing countries such as Brazil, India and Argentina started to face crises, was a source of concern not only for the Turkish economy but also for the European economy. I can say Erdoğan was quite successful in the three visits given present circumstances. Let me briefly stress the significance of these visits before delving into why I found these visits successful.

Brussels, Paris and Berlin are the capitals where EU policies are not only shaped but also designed. The establishment dynamics of the EU, which today has 28 members, were discussed and shaped in Paris and Berlin and these two capitals later played a decisive role in major issues such as the organization of the EU, the deepening of the integration process, the adoption of the euro as the common currency of the union, and the kicking off of membership negotiations with Turkey. Since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, some other influential capitals have stepped in, but Paris and Berlin continue to shape the major decisions and reforms for the 28-member union. Even the most shortsighted EU bureaucrat knows that no project can be implemented without backing from these capitals.

Brussels is certainly an important major center that influences the decisions as it is home to the EU institutions. But you have to take Berlin and Paris into account if you want to understand Brussels and the EU. (Let this be a lesson for university students and young EU bureaucrats.) For this reason, Erdoğan’s meetings with Brussels, Paris and Berlin were important.

Another important element of these meetings stems from the nature of Turkish-EU relations. As you know, the EU recently opened talks on a chapter after a hiatus of three years, and important developments have occurred regarding visa formalities and readmission agreements. The latest Brussels visit by Erdoğan was expected to inject momentum into the bilateral ties.

However, the graft probe of Dec. 17 and the ensuing developments started sending a cold breeze to Europe, and it was claimed that Erdoğan would cut relations and that the cancelation of his visit was being debated. Indeed, Erdoğan not only reshuffled thousands of police officers and the prosecutors conducting the graft probe but also introduced a bill that sought to subordinate the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to the government. Thus cold winter, not spring, awaited Erdoğan in Brussels. For this reason, his visit has acquired additional importance.

Who persuaded whom?

Returning to why I find these visits successful, I should note that Erdoğan made the visit although aware of the coldness, and this visit led to favorable results. The first and most important development was that Erdoğan decided to suspend the HSYK bill which was being negotiated in Parliament. The Council of Europe, the European Commission and European Parliament officials clearly and politely told Erdoğan that this bill would mean the suspension of the rule of law, making the EU decision to kick off membership negotiations with Turkey meaningless and taking Turkey back to the 1990s. The suspension of this bill that would subjugate the HSYK to the Ministry of Justice indicates that the prime minister received the message.

Another important development was that Erdoğan announced 2014 as the “Year of the EU.” In this context, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s appointment as EU minister can be regarded as an opportunity. We can assume that although it ignores the political importance of the EU accession process, Ankara is aware of its economic importance. In a sense, the economic aspect is the main reason why Erdoğan does not or cannot burn bridges with Brussels. However, it is unclear whether this new direction is perceived as convincing. With the new Internet bill, Turkey is heading towards the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), not the EU. Such a contradiction cannot be tolerated by EU institutions or those involved in the accession process for long. When the gap between words and actions is noticed by businessmen, the EU accession process may be stripped of its persuasive quality.

There were different perceptions regarding the graft probe and the parallel state claims. In Brussels, Paris and Berlin, no one believed Erdoğan’s claim that the graft probe was the “work of the parallel state.” Saying there is no corruption in Turkey is like saying that there are no traffic accidents in Turkey, but that there is instead a conspiracy against traffic police officers. Corruption is a widespread problem in Europe. According to a report recently published by European Commissioner for Home Affairs in the Barroso Commission Cicila Malmström, corruption costs 120 billion euros to EU member countries. Therefore, there is nothing more natural than Turkey’s current wrestle with this problem as well.

Moreover, the charges against four ministers are quite serious. Erdoğan’s efforts to market a “parallel state” as a scapegoat for “non-existent” corrupt practices are perceived in Europe as his reluctance to combat corruption. However, he is supposed to mobilize all instruments at hand, including education, infrastructure, institutional reforms and penal law in the fight against corruption. Corruption, like traffic accidents, cannot be eliminated completely, but can be restricted to a certain extent.

Talk of a ‘parallel state’

Europe is astonished to hear all this talk about the parallel state. Clearly, if there is really such a thing, all measures available under the rule of law should be implemented to combat it. But the movement targeted with the “parallel state” rhetoric had been one of the main supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) until very recently. It is not convincing to label this movement — which constituted to the voter base of the AKP — as “coup supporters” and even as “hashashin.” Moreover, the Hizmet movement is not the only movement that is influential within the AKP.

Speaking to Neşe Düzel for the Taraf daily in 2012, Hidayet Şefkatlı, an expert on the AKP, said: “As far as I can see, there are three influential communities represented in the party: the Topbaşlar group, the Menzil community and the Hizmet movement. In addition, there are a number of smaller communities.” Does only one of these communities constitute the “parallel state”? What do the others do?

Moreover, the Milli Görüş (National View) movement, from which the AKP originated, also gives the impression of acting like a “parallel state” and is closely monitored by Europe. For instance, in annual reports, German intelligence authorities refer to Milli Görüş as a movement that threatens the constitutional system, but they don’t mention such a designation for the Hizmet movement. Anyway, Erdoğan seems to have burned bridges with the Hizmet movement. But his preference to not cooperate with the Hizmet movement does not justify his accusing thousands of public servants of being coup supporters without any legal basis.

Actually, the “parallel state” talk is not new to Turkey. Until a few years ago, the secretary-general of the National Security Council (MGK) had been acting as a “parallel” prime minister who had more extensive powers and authorities than the real prime minister regarding security issues. As this tutelage is being purged, Turkey is now building a similar “parallel organization.” More and more people are being vested with “immunity,” including National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officials, the upper echelons of the armed forces, which is proof that a stronger parallel state is being rebuilt in the country. This “immunity” is being expanded to include potentially incriminating content as in the case of the semi-trailers that are claimed to be traveling to Syria.

A quick look at the 1990s is enough to make us realize that the creation of a core within the state that is immune from judicial and political audit and review will lead to big problems. This is dangerous also for the employees of these “immune” institutions and for their future. In a democratic state guided by the rule of law, laws should be the basis of everything and individuals should not be untouchable but controllable under the laws. Imagine the horror these “untouchable” people will experience when the prime minister on whom they rely loses the election. They will do anything to avoid this fate.

Returning to the significance of the Brussels, Paris and Berlin visits, I should note that these visits, which were conducted under unfavorable conditions, can be perceived as well-developed in terms of making Turkey realize the importance of the EU process from a political and economic perspective. These visits have made it clear that Erdoğan and his government are still suffering from a loss of prestige in the eyes of European leaders, particularly given the Gezi Park protests and the new Internet bill.

A brief perusal of prestigious German and French papers such as Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reveals that this problem is a very profound one. On Feb. 5, the papers noted that the impression given by the Erdoğan-led Turkish government is bad and that the “parallel state” discourse aims to cover up the corrupt practices. I hope 2014 will really be the year of the European Union and that the new minister in charge of EU policies will not be as unlucky as his predecessor.

*Ali Yurttagül is a political adviser for the Greens in the European Parliament.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 16, 2014

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