quarta-feira, 9 de março de 2016

Desperate Europe tiptoes around Turkey to clinch refugee deal

March 8, 2016 5:33 am
Desperate Europe tiptoes around Turkey to clinch refugee deal
David Gardner

EU leaders proceed gingerly with an emboldened Erdogan

The EU, buffeted by the migrant panic, the continuing fallout from the financial and eurozone crises, and the possibility of a British departure from the union, is being pushed into alliance with leaders who hold its values in contempt. Paralysed into tawdry realpolitik, it is surrendering soft power: the attraction of an open society based on shared and codified values of freedom.
So it is in this week’s latest attempt to make Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey the EU bulwark holding back the waves of refugees converging on Europe from Syria and elsewhere. President Erdogan chose this moment, right after talks with Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, to show Europeans how much he respects the freedoms underpinning their union.

While he opened with great fanfare a third bridge across the Bosphorus, physically linking Europe and Asia, his courts effectively closed the best-selling Zaman newspapers, one of the last media groups outside government control. Police violently dispersed protesters outside Zaman’s offices. Freedom of assembly is as constricted as freedom of expression in Mr Erdogan’s Turkey, and he seems happy to exhibit it.
The Zaman group was taken in a forced entry by court-appointed trustees — who are no more than government trusties. The same happened last October with the takeover of another media group. Both groups are linked to former allies, now bitter rivals, of Mr Erdogan’s neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP).
The government explanation for this new offensive against the media is that the courts are combating a “parallel state” embedded in Turkey’s institutions by Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamist preacher they accuse of trying to mount a coup.
The shadowy Gulenist network, with cadres in the police, the judiciary and the intelligence services, was once a prized asset for Mr Erdogan. It provided the shock-troops the AKP government needed to defang the army, in a series of baroque conspiracy trials in 2008-10 that ensnared secular dissidents — and anyone who had the temerity to investigate the Gulenists. While any state would try to root out such secret cells, Mr Erdogan only started doing so after Gulenist prosecutors launched a graft probe reaching deep into his inner circle in 2013.

Similarly, the government’s claim that it is respecting the independence of the judiciary is threadbare. Mr Erdogan closed down the 2013 corruption investigation and purged thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors. The policemen and judges that in 2014 intercepted and investigated a clandestine shipment of arms by Turkey’s main intelligence service to jihadi rebels in Syria are in jail. Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, journalists who published evidence of that shipment, are charged with espionage. When the Constitutional Court released them from preventive detention last week, Mr Erdogan said he would not recognise this “unconstitutional” ruling.
Turkey, a Nato ally and EU candidate member, came 149th in the press freedom index of Reporters without Borders last year, just above the Democratic Republic of Congo and Russia. In the 18 months since he ascended from the prime minister’s office to his new presidential palace that dwarfs Versailles, 1,845 charges of defaming Mr Erdogan — mostly on Twitter — have been issued. Scores of prominent columnists have been fired by proprietors fearful of presidential wrath.
As EU leaders, in their desperation to strike a deal to in effect pay for Turkish territory to shield their frontiers and serve as a holding pen for refugees, Mr Erdogan reminds them that, for him, there are no boundaries left. The so-called Copenhagen Criteria of EU democratic club-rules come a poor second to his Ankara rules.
This is partly Europe’s fault. From 2008 Germany called into question Turkey’s bona fides as a club member, seeing it as too big, too poor and, above all, too Muslim. That was when EU accession was serving as an engine of constitutional reform and democratic transition. Since then Turkey has cut loose from its western moorings, pulled east by Mr Erdogan’s delusions of a neo-Ottoman Middle East. The Turkey Europe and Angela Merkel, German chancellor, are re-embracing is under the thumb of one man.
Aside from money, Brussels is offering to relaunch Turkey’s long-stalled accession talks. That is worth doing only so long as the EU starts with its laws on freedoms and justice — good for Turkey and maybe even for Europe’s tarnished reputation.


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