Just open that damned chapter!

The European Union-Turkey relationship has again moved from one extreme to another. The end result is still the same: the accession process is still on hold. It was on hold when all the EU leaders were praising Turkey for its democratic and economic achievements; it is still on hold as some EU leaders are criticizing Turkey’s government for its harsh crackdown on protests and its interference in the press.   Like a pendulum, the mood changes, yet the facts remain: Croatia and Turkey started their EU accession processes together. Croatia got in last year, while Turkey is still waiting with quite a few chapters to go.

And look who is spearheading the criticism against Turkey’s harsh response to peaceful demonstrators.  Angela Merkel. Have we all forgotten Stuttgart 21? It made 2010 the year of water cannon politics for the chancellor. What was the major criticism against Angela Merkel at the time? Her harsh response to protestors. Stuttgart 21 was about an old train station to be replaced by an underground. It all started when the construction team started to cut down the trees in a nearby park that was to be annexed to the new station grounds. When protesters gathered, riot police showed up and dispersed them with water cannons and tear gas. That displayed the decisiveness of Angela Merkel. When you compare Gezi to Stuttgart 21, the only difference is in the competence of the riot police, if you ask me. The Germans are competent, Turks are not. The criticism on the lack of press freedom, I understand. But harsh response? Stuttgart 21 was harsh, too. That was the year when the CDU lost the state of Baden Württemberg to the Greens in the upcoming elections. It’s not hard to understand why. Populist politicians are the same everywhere, whether they are called Erdoğan or Merkel.

The protests in Taksim Square over cutting down trees in Gezi Park were part and parcel of the Euopeanization of Turkey. It all started with the trees. Unlike Stuttgart 21, fringe leftist groups were not at the core in Gezi Park, they came later. It was the young, urban professionals of Turkey who took to the streets. They are the result of the Europeanization of Turkey and on that day they took the country a few steps further in the same direction. The rapid spread of protests all around the country was partly a response to police brutality in Gezi Park and partly a call for the freedom of the press.

A very European reflex, if you ask me. I find the decision to block the new chapter in the Turkish accession process rather disappointing. Blaming it on harsh response to recent protests however, is rather hypocritical of Ms. Merkel.

Young urban professionals have decided to take action. The EU’s response to these most Europeanized of Turks should not be to abandon them. The people on the street created a conducive environment for a positive agenda. If the EU fails to seize this chance, it would be disgrace – a disgrace toward the protestors in Turkey and towards the ideals of the EU. So? Just open that damned chapter! Period.

Guven Sak