A prominent academic, Professor Talip Küçükcan said European institutions are in crisis because they have strayed away from their original principles and are being influenced by various interest groups and powers.
According to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy and former head of the Turkish delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), these institutions, instead of being inclusive, have started to employ discourses that are discriminatory and target certain countries, and this one of the important dimensions of the current crises between Turkey and Europe.
Küçükcan spoke with Daily Sabah about the recent discussions on Turkey in international institutions and the future of Turkey's relations with Europe. The deputy said he believes that the globalist viewpoint in Europe is becoming introverted and there is an emerging isolationist approach. He stressed that the EU has to relinquish this approach and the EU and European institutions have to revise and reform themselves in order to face the challenges that Europe faces. According to Küçükcan, this process has started in Europe and therefore anti-Turkish sentiments in Europe are not sustainable.
What is your take on the recent discussions on Turkey in international institutions?
We know that international institutions, in general and especially European institutions, discuss Turkey excessively; yet, their diction and discourses toward Turkey are problematic. We see institutions like PACE, the European Parliament (EP), NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) forsaking their own foundational philosophy and are unable to come up with resolutions against the large-scale crises they face. I believe we should analyze discussions about Turkey by taking these into consideration.
PACE, the EP and NATO are facing problems of immigration, security, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and populism, all of which threaten their values. Some Europeans claim that the pre-World War II political atmosphere has re-emerged. In this respect, we observe that certain countries are being surveilled more closely by various European institutions. Turkey is one of them. Turkey has been negotiating with the EU for full membership. Turkey is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe and a long-standing member of NATO and the OSCE. Therefore, Turkey is a prominent partner of these organizations.
Under normal circumstances, we would expect these institutions to side with the Turkish people and government when Turkey faces a challenge while contributing to the resolution. However, considering reports, discussions and documents, none of these organizations provide constructive criticism – they are rather destructive or even hostile.
We could assert that Turkey's relations with various European institutions suffered because of the rising populism in Europe. There is a younger generation of politicians who are affected by populism and embrace discourses that contradict with European values in Europe. Meanwhile, there is also a group of middle-aged politicians who perceive the importance of Turkey. Turkey could have a good discussion with the latter, while it's almost impossible to have a quality discussion with the former.
On the other hand, we observe that these organizations are unfortunately prone to other influences. These institutions, which are supposed to have their own set of organizational principles, values and discourses, are currently under the influence of various anti-Turkish lobbies like the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Take a look at these institutions' discourses in documents; you would see that they use the same discourse with the PKK and FETÖ.
Is rising populism in Europe the only cause of this divergence between the West and Turkey?
There was certain shared interest in the relations between Turkey and Europe. Europeans have long expressed that Turkey's geopolitical position offers opportunities for EU's transformation to a true regional and international actor. However, a culturalist discourse has recently emerged in Europe. When Turkey's negotiations with the EU were fully initiated, the criteria were objective; Turkey's laws, regulations and political culture were to reach European standards. Crucial reforms were implemented in Turkey. Once regarded as taboo, various issues started to be discussed and resolved. Turkey accepted all European and universal values like human rights, inclusivity and plurality. All of these are objective criteria; they can be observed and measured.
Meanwhile, Turkey had serious economic issues which strained our relations with Europe. Turkey decreased the inflation and became one of the fastest growing countries after China. Turkey transformed into a center of attraction for Europe. Europeans were concerned about Turkish people immigrating to Europe in masses; yet, as Turkey's continued to grow economically and to improve its democratic institutions, Turkish people became increasingly satisfied with staying in the country.
While Turkey was preparing itself to improve relations with EU, this new culturalist discourse emerged. All of the objective criteria were forsaken for discussions on culture, religion, civilization and region; they started to express that Turkey is a Muslim country which is governed mostly by Muslims and that Turkey's values as a Muslim country was incompatible with Europe.
In addition to this discourse, from 2009-2010 onwards, they started to target President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) by claiming that Turkey was becoming increasingly authoritarian because Erdoğan allegedly has absolute power, a situation contradicting with European values. We see that the schism between Turkey and Europe is deepening; however, from a rational viewpoint, relations should have been improving according to the objective criteria. Turkey did what it had to do and resolved many long-standing issues which were considered taboo.
On the other hand, Turkey also expressed that it was ready to accomplish 33 chapters of the EU accession process; accomplishment of chapters is considered according to objective criteria. Nevertheless, Europe has blocked Turkey from accomplishing these chapters with various excuses and the negotiations are at an impasse now. I believe the culturalist outlook of European populism played an important role in this situation. Europe has started lose faith in itself; while it is a significant civilization and a culture, Europeans started to perceive immigrants as a threat to their civilization and culture.
In fact, the liberal globalist viewpoint in Europe is becoming introverted. There is an emergent isolationist approach. We have observed the reflections of this approach in French, German and Austrian elections along with Brexit. Moreover, we have seen the rise of populist parties and various political movements that openly advocate xenophobia and racism.
Obviously, this has an impact on their relations with Turkey. It's clear why organizations like PACE, NATO, the EP and OSCE speak against Turkey; there are hysterical people who advocate isolationism and believe that interactions with other cultures will contaminate their own.
On the other hand, certain developments in Turkey also had a negative impact on country's relations with the West. One of these developments is the operations that took place in eastern and southeastern Anatolia following June 7, 2015 elections. These operations were presented as Turkey oppressing its own citizens. Especially the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the PKK, FETÖ and other anti-Turkey groups have been using this discourse.
Meanwhile, we have also seen that human rights organization nitpicking certain information about Turkey and presenting it as the whole. They accuse Turkey of victimizing its own citizens by forcing people to migrate and deliberately not providing education or healthcare in the region. However, during meetings with our counterparts, we express that Turkey has realized an important reform in the region between 2013 and 2015.
In order to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey, the state held meetings to disarm the PKK and to force the terrorist organization out of the country. The state didn't violate the cease-fire between 2013 and 2015. In this respect, claims that the AK Party government oppressed its own citizens are contradictory with the party's values. This would mean political suicide for the party. However, discourse about the violation of human rights was abused efficiently, which exacerbated the anti-Turkey viewpoint.
We experienced a similar situation after the July 15 coup attempt. Europe disregarded the coup, its perpetrator, its costs, martyrs and the wounded along with the bombed public institutions. Democracy and the civilian government in Turkey were under attack and Europe was completely indifferent about it. Then, Europe became involved when the government started to implement certain measures, all of which were out of necessity. For instance, the announcement of state of emergency; there were allegations that Turkey has strayed away from Council of Europe's values.
Meanwhile, Turkey used to be seen as a model country by Europe, especially around 2006-2007. The term "model country" while referring to Turkey was coined by Europeans themselves because of several factors. Firstly, they saw a conservative political party ascending to power through elections, not through a coup or revolution. Secondly, this seemingly "Islamist" vision caused a tremendous economic transformation. Thirdly, this political movement didn't have any issues with laicism and democracy; moreover, the government improved them. Considering all of this, what Turkey achieved is an exemplary success story for the Islamic world and the Middle East.
So, what has happened to this model country? This situation is related with the culturalist approach and shift in geopolitics. AK Party governments started to take action that discomforted dominant powers and the global status quo. One of them was the tension between Turkey and Israel. Secondly, the nuclear agreement with Iran that Turkey and Brazil had prepared – which was dismissed by the West and replaced with basically the same agreement later – and thirdly, Turkey's support for democratic transition during the Arab Spring. Considering all of this, criticism by international institutions toward Turkey has fractured our geopolitical relations with the West. We aren't playing the blame game, of course.
The world is a scene for competition. There is a political competition and, until recently, Turkey wasn't very influential. However, today Turkey has embassies and consulates in many countries and regions along with trade relations.
Moreover, Turkey has improved itself significantly especially in terms of humanitarian aid. All of this indicates that Turkey has gained some ground. These actions won't be disregarded by countries that dominate or used to dominate those fields. This is the struggle. This struggle was comparatively silent and covert up until recently.
However, at this point, Turkey showed that it's a force to be reckoned with, in terms of both soft and hard power. Despite tremendous changes in its military after the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey was able to demonstrate its hard power through Operation Euphrates Shield. This means that Turkey efficiently utilizes its smart power, the combination of soft and hard power. The said efficiency makes Turkey a rival to certain countries in the region.
According to EU officials, the main cause of the issues between Turkey and the EU is the country straying away from EU values. In this respect, could revoking the state of emergency and implementing a new democratic reform process resolve existing issues between the two parties?
Turkey allegedly straying away from European values, violating rights and freedoms, arresting elected officials and journalists, oppressing the opposition – these are all arguments being made by the EU. It should be expressed that AK Party has never forsaken its reformist core. Similarly, the party still aims to improve democracy and its institutions in Turkey. The country is going through a rough patch at the time; we're talking about a country that has suffered a coup and attacks from a terrorist organization that has abused the peace process which was implemented at the risk of the party's political demise.
Naturally, this country has to defend itself. When we're explaining the existential threats Turkey faces, we underscore the PKK, FETÖ and Daesh, along with having a failed state right across the border. Some of our European counterparts confess that their country would plunge into political instability if they had to face half of these risks. Therefore, we want to have relations that rely on rationality.
As I've said, Turkey has to defend itself. Turkey won't revoke the state of emergency just because the West wants it to do so; we have an elected government which believes the state of emergency is a necessity. When France announced a state of emergency, nobody asked them to revoke it. This is a sovereign decision of the French government and it is also within our rights. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, we can declare the state of emergency.
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe and the OSCE have certain demands. I'm saying demands, because the language they're using is imposing; just like an empire asking its colony. They demand us to release all arrested journalists and political prisoners. We state that our country has its own judicial system and this process can't be concluded with pressure from either internal or external sources.
We desire to discuss rational issues. When we hold meetings with our European counterparts, we ask them to list the shortcomings of Turkey so that we can fix these issues and normalize relations. However, their language, diction and discourse don't provide a roadmap for Turkey. Moreover, they expect us to interfere with the judicial process and release supporters of the PKK and FETÖ just because they are politicians. This is impossible. It's unacceptable for a member of the executive to put pressure on the judiciary in each and every EU member country. The judiciary will resolve this issue by itself.
Considering these issues, what does the future hold for Turkey and Europe? Will Turkey and Europe diverge further or will we be seen as a problematic member of the Western bloc?
Firstly, we have to summarize the past events. In 2005, the EP voted on whether or not full membership negotiations with Turkey should commence. Most of the deputies voted yes; a similar voting today might have an opposite result. Moreover, Turkey is accepted to the post-monitoring dialogue process in 2004 by PACE. Therefore, Turkey's relations aren't tense categorically. I don't see any reason not to have similar successful relations with Europe. We need to have commonsense and be more peaceful and inclusive. In addition, we have many common interests with the West; economic interests, common security goals and the resolution of the refugee crisis are some of them. Turkey has to cooperate with the West to develop its own technology and improve the higher education. This doesn't imply forsaking the East, of course. Turkey has a balanced foreign policy which allows the country to be active in almost all regions around the world.
In terms of economic and security interests, production of goods with high added-value along with increased quality of universities, Turkey benefitted well from the West in the past. Turkey's reforms to become an EU member have also improved the country in human rights, democracy, social services, civilian-military relations and civil society. Meanwhile, the population of our diaspora in Europe is around 5.6 million. Therefore, it's not possible for Turkey to forsake Europe. This is from a Turkish standpoint.
There is a similar outlook in Europe as well. It's not possible to see Europe as a monolithic entity; Europe is being questioned by itself. Populist movements and their ramifications are being discussed in Germany, France and the U.K. If Europe can relinquish its culturalist and isolationist approach, it will see the truth. Turkey is important for the EU's global actor bid and security with its population of 80 million. Unfortunately, discussions on Turkey in Europe are rather ideological and emotional.
We observe that Turkey is trying to normalize bilateral relations with EU-member countries while relations with European institutions are problematic. How do you evaluate this situation?
This is an indicator of European institutions' internal crises. These institutions are no longer deemed reputable. Europeans themselves are stating this. All of these institutions are in a crisis, because they have strayed away from their original principles and are being influenced by various interest groups and powers. Instead of being inclusive, they have started to employ discourses that are discriminatory. Moreover, they have started to target certain countries.
Institutional relations aren't deemed as serious as before. For instance, when a report was published on a country, it would've been taken seriously in the past. However, now it's known that any extreme leftist group of countries at the OSCE or EP can write a report. This indicates issues in institutional structure. For this reason, Turkey is improving bilateral relations with countries instead of institutions themselves. EU progress reports don't matter much for Turkey, because the background process is known by the country. It's not objective.
Turkey can never be separated from Europe; it's not desired by both Turkey and Europe. We want to maintain relations while having our sovereignty intact, thus as equals. Turkey is opposing imposition. In the past, these kinds of issues were resolved in the background through diplomacy; however, the populist discourse in Europe has transformed anti-Turkish sentiments into a stock. I don't believe this is sustainable.
So, anti-Turkish sentiments in Europe are not sustainable?
Definitely. The EU is facing serious crises now; in order to manage these crises, the EU and European institutions have to revise and reform themselves. This process has started.
Populism might yield many things in the short-term, but Europeans will see that it doesn't contribute to strategy, economy and geopolitics in the long-term. We're living in a global world. No development is limited to its surroundings. The EU can't completely isolate itself from the world. If it really does, then it would mean the reemergence of populism, racism and Nazism. There is a sole solution: Europe has to open its doors.
For this reason, Europe should accept Turkey. The West can't close its borders and avoid crises and conflict; this is impossible. They have to cooperate with developing and growing countries like Turkey. Otherwise, they will be weakened. This would mean Europe's suicide. Today, a German political party, which was founded in 2014, has 92 seats in parliament. For the first time since World War II, a xenophobic political party, which has issues with European values, is going to send its deputies to the PACE delegation. To manage this situation, Germany and Europe have to open themselves and embrace Turkey.