A disunited EU has little leverage to prevent the authoritarian turn of Turkey’s ruling AKP and the criticism from the European Commission fell on deaf ears.
As in other enlargement cases, the EU seeks to promote democratisation, human rights, and the rule of law in Turkey. But, unfortunately, it is now widely accepted that Turkey is backsliding in the absence of the EU pressure that anchored reforms between 1999 and 2005, and a Turkish interest in reform. Over the past year, the Kurdish issue has also re-emerged with a new salience. The struggle between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish armed forces led to more than 700 victims, the largest escalation for years. Work on a new liberal constitution continues to be difficult, making a grand bargain on the Kurdish issue as well as on the rights of other ethnic and religious communities harder. Still, President Abdullah Gül has tried to play a moderating role and enter into dialogue with the parliamentarians of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). By January 2013, it transpired that Hakan Fidan, head of the security service, was in talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
There were increasing concerns in the EU in 2012 about the authoritarian turn in the ruling AKP, while the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) fails to present an alternative to government policies. However, EU leverage continues to be low, if not non-existent. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failed to mention the EU in his speech before the AKP’s convention in September. In October, the EU published one of its most critical progress reports in years, which discussed at length deficits in areas of human rights and democratic governance. But Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış dismissed it as biased and Burhan Kuzu, an AKP parliamentarian, threw a copy of it in the recycling bin while appearing on a television show. As long as the negotiations remain stagnant, notably over chapters unilaterally blocked by Cyprus and France, it is hard to envision any credible EU policy to reignite change in Turkey, which is praised as a source of inspiration for the Arab Awakening.