Turkey-EU: Brexit, bombings, and the attempted coup Since Turkey became a candidate for EU membership in 2005, talks with Brussels on 15 of the 35 requirements to join have been launched. However, over the past three years, various incidents have caused relations between Turkey and the EU to have soured.
Since Turkey became a candidate for EU membership in 2005, talks with Brussels on 15 of the 35 requirements to join have been launched. However, over the past three years, various incidents have caused relations between Turkey and the EU to have soured.
Although relations between Turkey and the EU saw a period of steady growth, Brussels has recently criticised Ankara for backsliding on commitments to human rights and democracy, while Turkish officials have slammed European counterparts for applying double-standards and blocking the county’s progress towards full membership.
Turkey has now accused the EU of keeping the country at its gates because most of its 78 million population are Muslims. Turkish officials have also witnessed rising levels of Islamophobia and anti-Turkey sentiment in Europe as people across the union have focused on recent terrorist attacks, and the possibility of having to host millions of Turkish immigrants once the country joins the bloc.
Before Brexit, Turkey had been seen as a major European power. For many, it was viewed that an EU without Turkey would be weak. Even in the face of deep German and French scepticism, officials of strong countries in the union, including Britain, had been advocates of Turkey joining the bloc.
However, during Britain’s “Leave” campaign, Eurosceptics tapped into the population’s fears of large-scale immigration, including that from Turkey. Voters were persuaded with claims that Turkish membership in the EU was imminent, and would result in millions of Turks immigrating to the UK.
The prospect of visa-free travel for Turks to Europe, which would extend the continents borders to Syria, Iraq and Iran, was also deployed by pro-Brexit campaigners to convince those concerned about Islamic extremism seen in Paris and Brussels to vote leave.
As Britain’s Prime Minister struggled to get citizens to vote to remain in the EU, Turkish admission to the EU was downplayed, the pledge made in 2010 to be Turkey’s “strongest possible advocate” was annulled, and voters were convinced that Turkish membership in the EU would only happen by the year 3000.
Britain’s leave campaign continued to warn that closer cooperation with Turkey would produce uncontrolled immigration, crime and terrorism – which emboldened the fears of many British voters.
On 23rd June 2016, when Britain decided to leave the EU, Turkey lost its biggest champion in the union.
Turkey’s ambassador to the EU said the fallout from Britain’s departure may crimp the EU’s ability to deliver promises to Turkey, including visa-free travel for Turks to Europe and re-energised membership talks.
The British vote reinforced a feeling among Turkish officials that rising Islamophobia and anti-Turkey sentiment in Europe might push them to disengage from the bloc.
The UK vote has emboldened nationalists from France, Italy, the Netherlands, and other parts of the EU, who also want to leave the union. Threats facing the EU have endangered years of efforts by Ankara and Brussels to deepen ties.
As the Brexit campaign rattled leadership, the Turkish President warned that Ankara could call for a referendum to decide whether to continue accession talks with the EU. Turkey’s Foreign Minister said “Our public is greatly disturbed by the statements coming from the European Union because of the rising racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia”.
On 28 June 2016, a terrorist attack, consisting of shootings and suicide bombings, occurred at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Gunmen armed with automatic weapons and explosive belts staged a simultaneous attack in the international terminal of Terminal 2. 45 people, plus the 3 attackers, were killed, and more than 230 people were injured.
Media reports indicated that the three attackers were believed by Turkish officials to have come from Russia and Central Asia. The same officials said the attackers were acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and had come to Turkey from ISIL-controlled Syria. However, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Istanbul and other cities in Turkey have already been subject to numerous terrorist attacks in the first half of 2016. The European Union has said it wants Turkey to make changes to its anti-terrorism laws, that EU officials say are used to muzzle dissent.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister has said new anti-terrorism laws would “encourage the terrorists, and that Turkey cannot make any changes in its terrorism laws until conditions change.
But the EU has continued to insist that Turkey modify its anti-terrorisms laws to increase the freedom, expression and rights activism among its citizens. However, Ankara has shown no signs of agreeing to this, putting further strains on Turkey’s relationship with the EU.
On 15-16 July 2016, an unsuccessful coup d’état was staged against the Turkish President and his government by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces. At least 290 people were killed and more than a thousand were injured. In Ankara, the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace were bombed. Shots were also heard near major airports in Ankara and Istanbul.
Main opposition parties in Turkey were largely against the coup, and several international leaders – such as those from the United States, NATO and the European Union – called for respect for the democratic institution in Turkey and its elected officials.
After the attempted coup, the Turkish President said he would approve reinstating the death penalty if lawmakers backed the measure in Parliament, and called the event a “clear crime of treason”. However, according to the EU foreign policy chief, if Turkey reintroduces the death penalty, it cannot become an EU member state.
Both US and EU leaders have warned Turkey’s president to use restraint in his increasingly wide reaching crackdown against the plotters of the coup amid alarm at the speed of arrests of senior military and members of the judiciary.
The Prime Minister announced that more than 7500 people had now been detained including more than 6000 from the military, more than 750 prosecutors, and approximately 650 civilians.
The French Foreign Minister said “We cannot accept a military dictatorship but we also have to be careful that the Turkish authorities do not put in place a political system which turns away from democracy”.
Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, clearing the way for the country to start the formal process of EU accession negotiations, but widespread demands from the Turkish President’s supporters to reinstate the death penalty would end the country’s EU accession hopes.