This website is an archive of the work of Marietje Schaake in the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019. Marietje can be reached at

Speech at BKB Lecture 2014: Polarisation, and how the EU lost the progressives in Turkey

On September 13th 2013, Marietje Schaake gave a reaction to the 5th BKB Lecture by Turkish politician Safak Pavey. The full text of Marietje Schaake's speech can be found below. Polarisation, and how the EU lost the progressives in Turkey Polarisation in Turkey, between different parts of society, including political parties is real (as Safak Pavey so eloquently mentioned in her speech). There is a lack of trust in the rule of law and in institutions, between politicians, and also between people. During a talk I gave at a university a few years ago, I posed a few provocative questions. I had announced I would prefer interaction over speeching. Now, critical thinking is not at the core of the Turkish education system, but I was rather surprised when not a single student raised their hand. After the session, as tea was served, a long line of students formed. They all had interesting questions to ask. When I asked them why they did not want to discuss during the talk, many conceded ´you never know who is listening´. Many politicians, journalists, academics and other people in Turkey are convinced they are wiretapped by government. (And this was before the NSA revelations). Ironically, Turkey´s accession to the EU, and the relationship between the EU and Turkey are among the most polarizing topics on our political agenda. Too often, politicians on both sides speak to domestic audiences when talking about the other. Prime Minister Erdogan considered assimilation into German society as a crime against humanity, and recently took The Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights because of our foster care. For him it was not acceptable that a child of Turkish origin would be placed into a same sex family. One can only hope the government takes decisions by the ECHR critical of Turkey equally seriously. And EU politicians are not better. It is often interests such as security, energy, trade and regional stability that take the upper hand on our political agenda. And although these interests are real, and deserve attention, we need to only look at the Arab Uprisings to be reminded of the false promise of results of an interest based relationship. The Turkish government, boosting with self-confidence after winning a majority in the last elections, and with the economic wind in its back, likes to emphasize its role in a volatile region. Especially after the Arab Uprisings, many portrayed Turkey as a model of a secular democracy with a majority Muslim population. Right around that time, in the spring of 2011, I wrote an article for a Turkish foreign policy magazine. I underlined that Turkey could only be an example if it respects the rights of its own population. I had a long discussion with the editor when I insisted to write that a failure to do so may well turn the Arab street into an example for Turkey´s population. Last summer we saw that that prediction proved more relevant than I could have expected. But of course, the accession process to the EU is not based on converging foreign policy interests, but about domestic reforms that are needed to bring a candidate country in line with the EU´s rules and regulations. These are laid down in the so-called the Copenhagen criteria, a set of technical chapters about topics ranging from energy to immigration. This technical process has become too much of a government to government process, also affected by polarisation. The successes have been claimed by the government and the main opposition party did not embrace it, and was not sufficiently embraced by the EU either. Sadly the opposition parties in Turkey have not offered a good enough alternative to the AK Party´s power all together. (Not all parliamentarians are as good as Safak Pavey...) All in all, the EU has lost the progressive side of Turkey, many of whom do not feel represented by political parties at all. As a result of the 10% threshold, it is difficult for new parties to enter the political scene. This may explain why there is no liberal party in Turkey. We have lost the people, even though it is them, their human rights and fundamental freedoms, which is the key reason why progressive liberals like myself, continue to plea for Turkey´s accession. But I have to admit, it is becoming a more and more difficult case to make when women's rights, press freedom, digital freedom, and the rule of law are under increasing pressure. The best we can to is to step up our efforts to make a difference. Recently, when I initiated a resolution in the European Parliament, in which we harshly condemned the violent crackdown of the peaceful demonstrations in Turkey, I was asked on Dutch radio: ´This all sounds great, but do you think Prime Minister Erdogan will lose any sleep over your resolution?´ And frankly, I wondered the same.... However, by the evening of the same day the Prime Minister has denounced the legitimacy of the European Parliament all together. I guess we struck a nerve.... We must take the EU´s soft-power seriously, and invest in it. The Netherlands should play an active role, but that will require looking outward again, and showing ambition in Europe. It will also require a good conversation between the two government parties, who have differing stances on both Turkey and the EU. In any case, if we have learned anything from the Arab Uprisings, it is that an interest based relationship, where values and human rights are compromised, is not sustainable. I would therefor urge Minister Timmermans, next time he goes to Turkey to check on the Dutch patriot rockets there, that he does stop in Ankara to address the lack of press freedom, problems concerning the rule of law, women´s rights, and due process. I would also urge him to meet students at a University in Gaziantep or Kaiseri. The fact that the EU has been offering Turkey a positive agenda has been snowed under by the violent crackdown of demonstrations last summer. The EU has souhgt the put fundamental rights and the rule of law at the heart of the negotiation process with Turkey (and any other candidate Member State). By opening negotiation chapters 23 and 24, the ball is clearly in Turkey´s court. But beyond the technical process, we should think about ways in which we can re-engage people. We must think about a way to invest in a young generation of worldly thinkers in Turkey, much like the kind that BKB trains in its academy. Thank you.