On December 3, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe notified Turkey that it would initiate infringement proceedings for the country’s failure to comply with the order of the European Court of Human Rights ( CEDH) aimed at freeing human rights activist Osman Kavala.
At its next meeting on February 2, 2022, after a final consultation with the ECHR, the Committee could proceed with measures which could include the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or of its membership of the Council of Europe. He gave Turkey until January 19, 2022 to respond.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded more quickly than that in his idiosyncratic way to the Council of Europe’s warning. “In our eyes, these [ECHR] the judgments are null and void. We have explained it time and time again. They may or may not understand it. We do not recognize the decisions of the European Union compared to those rendered by our judicial system, ”he said.
Turkish commentator Zülfikar Doğan writing in Turkish newspaper Ahval pointed out how far Erdogan’s commentary departs from a long tradition of Turkish political thought, which pledged to respect the decisions of the ECHR when Turkey has started membership talks with the EU.
His position also deviates from Turkish law. Under article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, the decisions of the ECHR are binding on Turkey. The article states that international agreements ratified by Turkey have the force of law and that they cannot be challenged before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.
The article adds that in the event of a conflict between the provisions of international agreements ratified by Turkey concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the provisions of national laws, “the provisions of international agreements shall prevail”.
While some commentators say Erdogan is simply consistent with his general contempt for the rule of law, others believe his “challenge” to the Council of Europe is being staged for the upcoming elections in Turkey. He could also bet on the possibility that the ministers of the Council of Europe are not as united in their determination to sanction Ankara as they appear.
Some commentators have wondered how far Erdogan could take his approach from the brink. In other areas where he had previously pursued a more aggressive foreign policy, he is now more cautious. One example is the Eastern Mediterranean, where Erdogan launched his so-called Mavi Vatan (the Blue Homeland) doctrine, an irredentist project focused on reviving the maritime power of the former Ottoman Empire.
But instead of provocatively sending warships into Greek and Cypriot territorial waters, Erdogan has shown unusual restraint, even though he allows his spokespersons to make veiled threats. Its eyes are on Washington, which last week approved the sale of four new Lockheed Martin-made Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) warships to Greece at an estimated cost of $ 6.9 billion. The United States has also agreed to modernize the Greek Navy’s four German-built MEKO frigates, which will cost Athens $ 2.5 billion.
The US State Department explained that the sales were aimed at helping Greece “face current and future threats by providing an effective deterrent capability to protect maritime interests and infrastructure in support of its strategic location on the NATO’s southern flank “.
France also helped Greece improve its military capabilities. On September 28, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Athens had reached an agreement with France to purchase three heavily armed Belharra-class frigates as part of a deeper “strategic partnership” between the two countries. to defend their common interests in the Mediterranean.
Calling these developments “unproductive”, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç said they “will only strengthen our resolve to protect our rights and the rights of the Republic of Northern Cyprus in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean ”.
However, in fact, Turkey’s hands are tied in the face of a rush of regional developments and desperate economic hardship in its country. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar may say “the balance of power in the region will not change with a handful of used jets”, referring to the 24 advanced Dassault Rafale fighter jets that Greece has also purchased to France, but that fails to mention the huge problems. in Turkey’s efforts to modernize its own air force thanks to Erdogan’s insistence on purchasing the Russian S-400 missile system.
These things spoke for themselves when Erdogan was silent when Nicosia granted a license to Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum to drill for oil and gas in Cypriot waters in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey claims that part of the field in question violates its continental shelf. While Erdogan may be upset that Turkey’s “good friend and brother” Qatar is a partner in the licensing deal, he cannot afford to alienate Doha at a time when the economic difficulties of his country are tightening.
While Europeans have multiple concerns about the state of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, they are also worried about the issue of immigration and refugees, especially after the recent unrest along the border with Belarus. In the opinion of many European circles, some regimes at the gates of Europe are using refugees as a weapon in a secret war and as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard.
Belarus faced the accusation, but attention was also drawn to Turkey. In 2015, Ankara signed an agreement to shelter refugees from war-torn Syria and prevent them from entering Europe in exchange for a € 3 billion package. Then, in February 2020, Erdogan threatened to let thousands of refugees flow into Europe in what has been described as an act of political blackmail.
Many predict that Erdogan will resort to this threat again if the Council of Europe considers suspending Turkey’s membership. But the Committee of Ministers will also assess other factors.
Turkish-European relations are complex and characterized by a range of shared concerns and intertwined interests. Analysts predict behind-the-scenes pressure to prevent ministers from adopting punitive measures that could push Ankara to desperate measures. Many advise keeping fingers crossed for Turkey’s June 2023 elections at the latest in the hopes that they will usher in a post-Erdogan era in Turkey and a healthier climate all around.
* A print version of this article appears in the December 16, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.