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MEP: Business as usual towards Turkey is no longer an option for the EU

Last weekend the Turkish authorities detained several journalists in raids on media outlets. Turkey already imprisons more journalists than any other country. Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake (ALDE/D66) believes a turning point in the relationship between Turkey and the EU is reached. “We are at yet another low point. Even though the accession talks with Turkey should lead to reforms of the judicial system and respect for human rights, it is clear that the opposite is happening under the leadership of the AK Party of President Erdogan,” says Schaake. The media organisations that were raided last weekend are connected Erdogan's former ally, Fetulah Gulen. Schaake: “While Gulen and Erdogan formed an alliance before, and silenced their critics together, they have now turned against one another. It is painful to see how economic growth has created a shadow over severe deterioration of the rule of law.” Corruption After a corruption investigation that involved Ministers and – then Prime Minister – Erdogan, hundreds of policemen were fired. Schaake: “The political interference with the judiciary is worrying. In the past there were mass trials against the army. When we raised questions about this in the European Parliament, we were ridiculed. Erdogan has now admitted that mistakes have been made. The rule of law urgently needs to be restored.” A large number of people in Turkey voted for the AK Party of President Erdogan; the party won the past six elections. Europe The negative spiral appears to know no boundaries. Proposals for mandatory religious education, and even separating boys and girls, go against European principles. “It is impossible for the EU to keep talking about negotiations with Turkey as if it is business as usual.  The rule of law violations must be at the top of the agenda in all talks with Turkey. Europe is losing credibility in the eyes of the Turkish people by accepting these blatant violations of fundamental freedoms,” states Schaake. Next January the EU will vote on a resolution about Turkey.
On December 17, Marietje Schaake spoke in the plenary about the developments in Turkey (see below). In October she called for a new agenda for EU-Turkey relations and recently wrote a blog responding to Mr Erdogan's troubling comments about women. Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group Mr President, our dream of a European Turkey has turned into a nightmare and it is time for a wake-up call. I was among those critical friends of Turkey who argued that an ongoing membership process helps reforms, but reality suggests the opposite. Last weekend’s arrest of journalists is part of a trend of government-led breaches of fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in Turkey.

Only a week after a high-level EU delegation visited Ankara, relations have now hit another low point. There was reason for concern before. After corruption allegations included Erdoğan – then Prime Minister, now President – and key members of his Cabinet, hundreds of police officers and prosecutors were relocated and threatened with prosecution. Those threats have now materialised and are also being used on journalists, while Turkey already held the world record for imprisoned journalists.

The obvious question is why the EU would act firmly only now. It comes down to our fears of Turkey sliding ever further away from democracy if the negotiations were to stop. Yet too many watershed moments have passed without serious criticism from Europe, from the banning of an unpublished book by Ahmet Şik to mass arrests and trials without due process. The witch-hunt of Gülen supporters is only the latest in a long list of rule of law violations. Members of the Fethullah Gülen Hizmet Movement and the AKP have created monsters together by helping each other in a coalition that long turned against everything on their combined path. Now they are turning against each other, leading to even more violations of the rule of law.

Today there are masses of people in Turkey who live in fear for their future – women, academics, artists, business leaders and, frankly, anyone who is critical of the government. Losing a job or a licence, receiving a tax fine or even being prosecuted for attempting to overthrow the government have become common tools to punish opponents, while laws were passed placing members of the security establishment and government officials above those laws. It is time to tell the AKP government that it is not business as usual. Europe has to show that there is an end to the violations of the rule of law.