May 12, 2016
Watch out for another shady deal with Turkey
We noted that Martin Schulz said yesterday that he no longer expects the visa waiver for Turkey to come into force by the end of June, since the Turkish parliament refuses to change the anti-terror laws as requested by the EU. But be careful. You should not think for a minute that the EU is giving up on the deal. In the backrooms there is already work in progress on how to produce a face-saving fudge allowing Turkey to continue to violate basic human rights while the EU pretends that all is well.
Frankfurter Allgemeine has a story taking a deeper look at the diplomacy behind the loud open exchange on both sides. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the request for a change in the terrorism law, but the EU is now apparently ready to abandon this demand and put it off until EU membership negotiations. Erdogan has sent his chief negotiator, Volkan Bozkir, to talks with senior EU officials in Strasbourg, including Schulz. On Friday, he will talk to the Commission. The European demand for a change in the terrorism law is about Turkey's rather extensive definition of terrorism, which has a huge implications for civil liberties. The deal on visa-free travel, which dates back to 2013, demands that Turkey ensures liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, freedom of opinion, and freedom of public gatherings. The paper reports that the EU now seems to accept that Erdogan will not change the anti-terrorism laws. On the contrary, he wants to strengthen the laws further. But that's apparently no longer a problem for the Europeans. All Ankara is requested to do now is to recognise the EU's legal framework - though we are not entirely sure what that means. It looks to us that the EU would be happy with a general non-binding declaration, allowing Erdogan to continue to abuse his powers at home and the EU to pretend not to see this.
There are still a few principled people out there. Guy Verhoftstadt is one of them. He wants to pull the plug. He notes that the EU-Turkey deal has dramatically diminished the EU's credibility as a defender of freedom of speech, and press freedom in particular. Turkish prosecutors have opened 1,800 cases against people for insulting Erdogan. This includes journalists, and even children. He said the EU has sold its soul.
A deal would be subject to qualified majority voting in the Council and a simple majority in the EP. Given their record, we doubt that the EP will block a deal if it is backed by both the Commission and the Council. This is why we discount the statement by Schulz. Also we noted that Erdogan himself is talking about visa-free travel by the autumn. We find all this disturbing.