EU : Turkey has increasingly authoritarian way of government, Swoboda says

23 November 2013 /SEVGİ AKARÇEŞME, İSTANBUL – Zaman – Hannes Swoboda, president of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said on Friday in İstanbul that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has an ever more authoritarian way of governance as he argued that Turkey is moving away from EU values and principles.

Talking to Today’s Zaman following his address at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s (FES) panel discussion on Turkey, Swoboda said the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made correct moves in the past, but that “it has become an Islamo-conservative movement with authoritarian leadership.”

Criticizing the ruling AK Party especially on its rhetoric on women and education, Swoboda asked Erdoğan not to tell women and young people how to live their lives. “These policies move Turkey away from Europe,” he said in reference to a recent remark from an AK Party deputy favoring separate education for girls and boys at schools. “The government should build bridges rather than promote one side on moral issues,” Swoboda further said as he stated that few countries are as divided as Turkey on such basic issues as the constitution and the EU.

In a critical remark on the AK Party’s decision to join the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) as a full member after leaving Europe’s largest political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), Swoboda said that he considers it a “clear sign from Erdoğan that he wants to leave the EU not alone, but with all the others,” referring to the EU skeptics. However, describing Turkey a strategic partner of Europe, he added, “We do not want to lose Turkey.”

From the European perspective, he expressed support for the opening of new chapters in negotiations with the EU, in particular Chapters 23 and 24 focusing on fundamental rights and freedoms.

‘You cannot expel a member over difference of opinion’

In response to a question on a request to expel AK Party deputy İdris Bal from the party for expressing opposition to the government’s plan to shut down private prep schools, Swoboda said: “You do not expel someone for one different opinion. If it is a permanent revolt against the government, you can ask, but for me it is a sign of an authoritarian tendency.”

According to Swoboda, authoritarian parties and governments use economic instruments to punish opposition as he said that he observes such a pattern in the AK Party government. Responding to a question on the prep school row, Swoboda said that as a social democrat he is a defender of public schools, but “in today’s society private institutions supporting public education systems are good in terms of competition.”

According to Swoboda, the future of the direction of Turkey depends on the upcoming presidential elections and whether the ruling party remains united. “I do not think Erdoğan has no control of his party, but he lets people like the deputy express radical ideas to see what the reaction would be,” Swoboda said, commenting on the AK Party’s controversial policies.

Results must be seen in Kurdish issue

Swoboda also argues that Turkey is suffering from ambiguous policies because policies change frequently, such as with the Syrian and Kurdish issues. “It must be a deliberate policy, a trial and error process,” he went on to say.

As far as the Kurdish issue is concerned, “we need results in the Kurdish issue, but I do not see too many results,” Swoboda states. While welcoming Erdoğan’s meeting with the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, Swoboda says that the meeting could have positive consequences “if it means moving forward for all Kurdish rights.”

Recommending a “viable regionalization and decentralization” for Turkey in local governments, Swoboda says big countries such as Turkey need a less centralized government. Why should the Kurdish party not be represented in the İstanbul local assembly, he asked. Commenting on regional issues, Swoboda said peace in the region is possible if there is a balance between Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“I am in favor of strengthening relations with all four of them to solve the crisis in Syria,” he commented, highlighting his desire for a political solution. “I do not want people to be killed by Assad or the jihadists,” Swoboda also pointed out.

Concern over Turkey’s direction among social democrats of Turkey

Prior to Swoboda’s arrival, the panel on Turkey organized by FES witnessed a lively debate on the direction Turkey is heading in. The speakers expressed concern over Turkey’s direction as they argued that Turkey has been becoming more authoritarian.

CHP Deputy Chairwoman Şafak Pavey talked about “social division” in Turkey as she argued that nothing can stand in the way of “religious populism in Turkey.” Addressing specifically the EP members in the room, she asked, “Can you imagine a Turkey without the secularists of this country,” after arguing that religion as an institution has begun to rule Turkey.

Professor Ahmet İnsel, on the other hand, said that authoritarianism in Turkey dates back to the establishment of modern Turkey as he said that Turkish democracy has the minimum elements of democracy despite a tendency towards authoritarianism. “Turkey is not Putinism, but we feel the necessity to make a comparison with Putin’s rule,” he commented. An academic and a columnist for the Radikal daily, Koray Çalışkan argued that Turkey has one more year before it institutes a “soft Shariah.” The Turkey director of FES, Michael Meier, who focused on Turkey’s relations with the EU in the opening remarks of the panel discussion, said Turkey is not high on the agenda in Germany’s coalition talks. Encouraged by the opening of Chapters 23 and 24, Meier said more positive signals from both sides are necessary. Listing the Kurdish issue, the writing of a new constitution and polarization as the main challenges in Turkey, Meier said compromise is not a typical Turkish trait.