It began in a small park in Istanbul and very well might end in Brussels. Turkey’s protestors are now nearly silent after a month of abuse at the hands of riot police, their revolutionary spirit seemingly moved across the Atlantic to Brazil. Their actions, however, will be of importance to European politics for quite some time, as will be the harsh and unfair response to their protests handed down by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey’s greatest challenge in the coming months stems not, at least directly, from those in Istanbul and Ankara, but from the questions their protestations have raised among certain members of the EU community regarding Turkey’s accession to the European Union. In response to the events in Turkey, Germany blocked the advance of accession talks last week and just a few days ago managed to push back until October any decision concerning Turkey’s membership. A little over a week ago Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party election platform denied any place for Turkey in the EU.
That Merkel and Germany don’t embrace Turkey’s bid for EU membership is hardly surprising, and therein lies a question that must be asked. To what extent is the European right merely using the protests in Turkey in order to reject Turkey’s accession? The protests have likely given those opposed to an EU that includes Turkey more than enough to kill accession hopes, at least for the near future, on the grounds of civil and democratic violations. Ultimately a reframing of the issue has taken place, for better or for worse, and has shaped all the issues surrounding Turkey into ones concerning nebulous European democratic “values.” Now, opposition is no longer a matter of economic or social cohesion, but one of punishment of the Erdogan government for transgressions that run contrary to the European spirit.
Can and should this argument be made by those opposed to Turkish accession? No one doubts the severity of Erdogan’s response to the protesters; it was needless, excessive, and unquestionably wrong. But Europe is hardly without fault itself, and if conservatives are to oppose Turkey’s entrance into the EU, they should not do it from the same position of believed superiority that initially pushed them to support a doomed “privileged partnership.” More likely, however, European conservatives (with Merkel at the helm) will begin to treat the protests as the tipping point in a lengthy and protracted struggle to prevent a European Union that includes Turkey.