As Turkish President Erdogan pushes his country towards despotism, European Union leaders — especially in Germany — must take a harder line.
MUNICH — It has become all too clear that Turkey today not only has no place in the European Union, but also does not belong to the broader international community of values that respects the ideas of pluralism, individual freedom and human rights.
This is a sad state of affairs, especially because the country's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's vision was driven by a desire to open up the country, drawing it nearer to the West and transforming despotism into democracy. It happened slowly, and faced major setbacks along the way as Turkey was caught between an authoritarian class of military officers and the threat of Kurdish separatists who aimed to defeat the central state. And yet, by the turn of the millennium, Turkey had been closer to the EU than ever before. Hope was spreading that the EU and Turkey could help define the future together — geographically, intellectually and historically speaking.
It's all lost now, at least for the near future. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned back the time to before Atatürk. His crackdown after July's attempted coup is indeed carrying democracy back to despotism, slowly but surely.
Erdogan has abolished freedom of speech. Tens of thousands have been detained because of alleged ties to the government's sworn enemy: Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic cleric. The war against the Kurds in the southeast escalates. Last week, 11 members of parliament from the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party were arrested.
The systematic dismantling of basic freedoms and the constitutional rule of law gives the impression that Erdogan is simply exploiting the attempted coup as an instrument to serve his own political objectives. Erdogan wants to transform Turkish politics into a presidential system with an authoritarian character, a one-party state controlled by a repressive security apparatus. It's the classic state-of-emergency state that requires the constant presence of an enemy.
The pattern is well known: From Chile to Greece, prolonged states of emergency inevitably led to open conflict and ultimately repression. That, in some way, could offer hope that Turkey too — especially considering the voices of civil society — can one day turn things around again by firmly reestablishing democracy, just like Chile and Greece did in the past two decades. On the other hand, it's legitimate to fear that Erdogan is following the path of China, where a despotic party is firmly planted in power, even while leaving possibilities and certain freedoms alive.
For Europe too, and especially Germany, the situation is troubling. First of all, because millions of ethnic Turks live; but also because there are some major geopolitical issues that can't be tackled without cooperating with Turkey — from the refugees crisis to wars, from the Caucasus to Iraq.
The more Turkey turns toward despotism, the less it can act as a "partner". Political cooperation remains possible, balancing of interests becomes vital, but appeasement, per se, must be avoided. This must be made clear. One plain example: The EU can decide to revoke the planned easing of visa requirement for Turkish citizens. As for EU membership negotiations: They must be stopped immediately.