EU sides with 'no' campaign ahead of Turkey referendum

Published 07.03.2017 23:26

European countries' open support to the ‘no' campaign in the Turkish referendum will have an adverse effect on the camp opposing the constitutional reform

In recent weeks, European leaders have imposed a ban on Turkish politicians campaigning, making it clear that they have sided with the "no" campaign ahead of the April 16 constitutional referendum. The first salvo was fired when Germany canceled several events, where Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci were due to speak, citing fire safety regulations and other concerns. Then, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that his country was "not the place for the political campaigns of other countries."

Finally, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern suggested that constitutional reform would "weaken the rule of law in Turkey, undermine the separation of powers and violate EU values" and called for an EU-wide ban on Turkish political gatherings.

What started out as friction between Turkey and Germany quickly evolved into something much broader. Unable to figure out how to integrate the Turks, European leaders currently face a crisis of democracy that was caused by their own lack of vision.

To make matters worse, incumbents in Germany and the Netherlands, where crucial elections are scheduled to take place later in 2017, resort to anti-Erdoğanism and anti-Turkish rhetoric for domestic consumption. Having failed to stand with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), Europeans now appear unable to tame the "racism" monster they created as uncontrollable hostility toward Turkey and the Turks places Europe's long-term strategic interests at risk.

The decision to prevent Turkish politicians from speaking at public events in Europe, furthermore, deepens the crisis in European democracies. Imposing arbitrary restrictions on the rights of a candidate country's officials and citizens not only undermines "European values" but also puts additional strains on Turkey-EU relations.

The fact that members of terrorist groups, including the PKK, have been freely speaking at conference venues and on public squares across the continent, while the same government shut the door on Turkish politicians citing bogus evidence, makes millions of Turks believe that they are being treated like the enemy.

To be clear, European politicians who do not think that Turkey belongs in Europe could turn a blind eye to the most recent developments. However, it is important to acknowledge that hostility toward Turks amounts to systematic alienation as the European public holds a crucial debate on the continent's future.

Although they do not want Turkey to become an EU member, both Berlin and Vienna desperately need to work with the Turks to secure and defend Europe against external threats. Furthermore, it remains unclear if European leaders, who failed to stop Brexit, will be able to prevent others from leaving by introducing the idea of "multi-speed Europe."

At the same time, European governments are bound to experience serious problems with the United States since U.S. President Donald Trump broke with tradition regarding NATO. Fearing Russian meddling in European elections, they need to overhaul the Union's Turkey policy.

Realistically, though, Turkey-EU relations should be expected to grow tenser in the short run. Neither Berlin nor Brussels will reconsider their stance regarding the Turkish leadership before the vote count ends on April 16. As a matter of fact, they will probably wait until after upcoming elections in Europe are over.

Until then, Turks have no reason to put up with Europe's anti-democratic policies toward them. It was for that reason that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan protested against Germany's stance over the weekend, saying, "You have nothing to do with democracy. Your current practices are no different than what the Nazis did in the past."

One more thing: European leaders should probably know that their thinly veiled support to the "no" campaign will actually hurt the opponents of constitutional reform and provide the "yes" campaign with plenty of ammunition at home. Knowing that polarization would benefit the pro-change movement, the Republican People's Party (CHP) had been running a low-intensity campaign ahead of the constitutional vote. By preventing Turkish politicians from speaking in Germany and other places, the Europeans ended up ruining the opposition's campaign strategy.

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