Reopening full monitoring for Turkey can change its course in Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) decision to re-open the monitoring procedure on Turkey, one of its oldest members and one of the first signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, is unbearably distressing but not altogether surprising.

The vote on the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe‘s “The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey” report passed with 113 against 45.

The Assembly, which is made up of parliamentarians from the 47 member states, has concluded that Turkey is no longer meeting its Council of Europe obligations.

To be put on a watch list again, 13 years after being in a post-monitoring status, is a first.

It is also a formal international recognition of how serious Turkey’s democratic deficiencies have become.

Expressing “serious concerns” about rights violations, erosion of democracy and the rule of law, the resolution called on Turkey to lift the state of emergency, to adhere to the principles of the rule of law and human rights standards, release all the parliamentarians and journalists detained pending trial and to take urgent measures to restore freedom of expression and the media.

Predictably, Turkey is not happy to come under greater scrutiny by any international organisation, regardless of its long-established obligations to them.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has described the decision  as “unjust, politically motivated and biased”, claiming that it contravened the established procedures.

“Deciding to re-open the monitoring procedure on Turkey, a staunch defender of contemporary European ideals and values and a founding member of the Council of Europe, under the guidance of malicious circles at the PACE is a disgrace to this institution, which claims to be the cradle of democracy,” the statement added.

The Foreign Ministry indicated that Turkey would have no choice but to reconsider its relations with PACE, and the Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin called it “a political decision by Turkey’s enemies”.

The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party Devlet Bahceli rejected the PACE decision and promised to stand by the government whatever its response may be.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party gave a mixed reaction. Blaming the Justice and Development Party government for damaging Turkey’s democratic institutions,  nevertheless, their representatives at PACE, voted against the resolution.

The PACE decision is bound to have a negative effect on Turkey’s ties with the European Union.  Even before the vote in Strasbourg, the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn was calling the relationship with Turkey to be reassessed. This week, Turkey will be on the agenda for the European Parliament first; followed by the EU foreign ministers’ informal meeting in Malta.

On May 15, the formal meeting of the EU foreign ministers should give a clear indication where the relationship would be heading.

If the repeated signals from President Erdogan to reinstate death penalty are anything to go by, Turkey has already made up its mind which way to go.

With both the Council of Europe and the European Union having made it very clear that the death penalty would be completely incompatible with membership, Turkey’s direction is not likely to be westward.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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