The EU is also ‘firing bullets’ at Turkish democracy

The Turkish army is not alone in seeking to override the democratic process in Turkey in order to get the right result.

Chris Bickerton

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Recent events in Turkey have provoked many stern responses throughout Europe. As the Turkish army voices its concerns about the presidential vote potentially going against Turkey’s secular system, many European commentators and officials have called on Turkey to ‘remember democracy’. When foreign minister Abdullah Gul was nominated by the conservative Islamic ruling Party – Justice and Development – as its candidate for the Turkish presidency, the army issued a statement rejecting Gul. This was seen by many as a warning by the army that a coup may be imminent, and it has led to widespread criticism of the Turkish army across Europe.

The UK Guardian writes of the ‘democratic solution’, which means reasserting the power of the political process over the country’s army elite (1). The European Union has reminded Turkey that democracy is one of the key ‘Copenhagen criteria’ – the list of standards which countries must meet if they hope to join the EU (2). The UK Independent reminded Turks that the EU is the only path towards democracy for Turkey: ‘There is no palatable alternative.’ (3)

Whether or not one agrees with the secular values defended by the army in its intervention into Turkish politics, there is little doubt that the army’s fear of Islamisation in Turkey betrays its deep hostility towards the principle of popular will as the foundation of political authority. Undermining the authority of the parliament means degrading the will of the people. Defending a set of values by passing over the heads of the Turkish population should be condemned for its elitism. It represents an attempt to remove basic issues of society from open political debate. It was, as Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said, ‘a bullet fired at democracy’.

Yet it is difficult to listen to the commentary from Western European observers, and particularly from EU officials in Brussels, without being struck by the hypocrisy. Intervention in Turkish national politics is hardly the preserve of Turkey’s own secular military elite. It is a routine practice of the EU itself.

Indeed, the whole idea of ‘democratising Turkey’ through the process of allowing it to accede to the EU rests upon an assumption similar to that held by the Turkish military: that left to their own devices Turkish politicians are unable to keep on the democratic straight and narrow. The logic of EU enlargement as a democratising force proposes that countries need an external prop, something which can direct national elites and keep them in check. As others have argued, today Bosnia Herzegovina is the most ‘European’ country of all: it is nominally independent but in practice the authority of government decisions rests upon whether or not they conform to EU standards (4). The carrot of EU membership is a far greater intervention in Turkish politics than anything the military has mustered.

The lessons of Eastern Europe should not be forgotten. Beyond the rhetoric, the EU enlargement process weakened national parliaments, reducing them to bodies whose main task was to rubber-stamp EU law, often without any parliamentary debate. National executives forged closer links with bureaucrats in Brussels than with their own people. Members of the Czech negotiating team in 2004 regretted the end of the enlargement process, as it would mean governing the country without the authority of Brussels to back them up. Since 2004, we have seen the consequences. Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic in June 2006 left the country deadlocked for months. Hungarian politics exploded in October last year as the EU-friendly prime minister’s willingness to trick his own people was exposed by his opponents.

A democracy can only be built by people themselves; it cannot be imported from without. Current events in Turkey reveal a country that is struggling over competing visions for Turkish society. Only Turks can decide how their nation should be governed. All interventions that undermine the will of the people should be opposed, including the EU’s model of ‘democratisation’. Indignation at the actions of the Turkish military elite isn’t worth much when it is accompanied by support for the ‘benign’ intervention of the EU elite into Turkish affairs.

Chris Bickerton is a PhD student at St Johns College, Oxford. Email him at {encode=”christopher.bickerton@politics.ox.ac.uk” title=”christopher.bickerton@politics.ox.ac.uk”}.

Previously on spiked

Brendan O’Neill discussed the imprisonment of Turkish author Orhan Pamuk in Free speech in Europe: its all or nothing and discussed the rumours of a Turkish Islamic revolution in Has Turkey turned?. Mick Hume argued that it was Time to ‘talk turkey’ about Turkey joining the EU while Josie Appleton argued that in accession talks, Europe was Taking it out on Turkey. Or read more at spiked issue Europe.

(1) The democratic solution, Guardian, 3 May 2007

(2) EU warns army in Turkey dispute, Guardian, 3 May 2007

(3) Torn between democracy, the military and Islam, Independent, 3 May 2007

(4) David Chandler, Bosnia: whose state is it anyway?, spiked, 20 April 2006

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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