In an exclusive interview with Yeni Özgür Politika, Kati Piri, the vice-chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (EP) and the former rapporteur on Turkey’s EU membership, shared her views on the EU’s current relations with Turkey.
You have been the EP’s Turkey rapporteur for a long time. When you evaluate Turkey’s democracy scorecard how would you describe the current government?
When I was first elected in 2014 as the member of the European Parliament, the atmosphere in Brussels regarding Turkey was very different from today’s. We have witnessed a rapid decline in democratic standards in Turkey in recent years. Things have become worse. The Gezi protests were a turning point as I see it. Not long after that, we saw the crash of negotiations between the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and the [Turkish] government to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. The coup attempt in 2016 was another turning point. Despite all political actors agreeing to condemn the coup plotters, Erdoğan made use of the coup attempt as an opportunity to further consolidate his power and suppress all critical voices.
Now we see the complete politicisation of the judiciary. Extraordinary powers under the state of emergency have been integrated into the law. Parliamentary supervision is weak. Erdoğan and the AKP [Justice and Development Party] apply everything in their power to further weaken democracy. This includes obvious pressure on the mayors, MPs and the members of the HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party]. The steps taken by the politicised Constitutional Court to eventually close the HDP are not only deeply worrying, but also unacceptable. The Turkish government should stop all attempts to deprive six million citizens of their voices.
How did Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe, reach the point where it refuses to implement the decisions of the ECHR? How would you describe a government that is deemed as “dictatorial and fascist” by the democratic forces in Turkey and the Kurds who are subjected to pressure on daily basis?
Indeed, Turkey clearly refused to implement the decision of the ECHR regarding the immediate release of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş. President Erdoğan and Minister of Internal Affairs [Süleyman] Soylu were given similar reponses as they reacted the way all autocratic governments do by calling the decision a “foreign intervention” when they were reminded of their democratic responsibilities.
Erdoğan forgets that he was the one who chose Turkey for membership of the Council of Europe. Turkey has chosen to abide by the the European Convention on Human Rights. Thus, Turkey chose to act in accordance with the decision of the ECHR.
How do you weight the EU’s responsibility for the authoritarian regression in Turkey?
Let me be clear: the responsibility for Turkey’s regression does not belong to the EU, but to the Turkish government, but it is also true that the EU could have been more active in recent years. I am afraid that you don’t even hear statements of deep concern and worry anymore. This clearly means that most EU leaders do not consider Turkey even as a candidate now. This does not stop us from our duty to defend the democrats in Turkey and evaluate the results when the red lines were crossed in Turkey and to be honest many of those red lines have been crossed. It is not easy to discuss democratic reforms with a government that is not interested in moving closer to the West. Therefore, we hope that Europe, along with the new US President Joe Biden, will use other means to put pressure on Ankara. Our most powerful tool in Europe, for example, is our economic relations with Turkey. We must be prepared to use our economic position as a geopolitical tool, and make a clear distinction between government and citizens.
I believe that no external force can bring democracy to Turkey. This does not mean that the EU should not raise any critical voice and mobilise all tools to put pressure on Ankara. If political arrests continue and ECHR rulings are not respected, the EU must remain straightforward and draw clear conclusions from these applications.
You have issued a statement in support of the HDP and called on Turkey to implement the decision of the ECHR regarding Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala. Following this statement, you have been targeted by racist groups in Turkey, by the Minister of Interior Affairs Süleyman Soyl and by the Turkish government. The fact that a parliamentarian calling for compliance with democratic values has faced such a harsh reaction should be an indication of the kind of pressure the Kurds and democratic forces have been subjected to by the Turkish government. Why is the EU avoiding a clear stance against the Turkish regime’s violations of human rights and freedoms? In the face of all these facts, why is the PKK still on the list of terrorist organisations?
The European Parliament has repeatedly shown a clear attitude towards the Turkish government’s violations of human rights. This includes my January motion on the Selahattin Demirtaş case. The Council, consisting of 27 member states, believes that Turkey shows a much more serious stance on human rights issues.
The European Parliament is not the body that adds to or subtracts from the EU’s terrorism list; this duty belongs to the member states. When it comes to the Kurdish question, this should be higher on the EU’s agenda. Equal rights for the Kurdish people as well as a democratic and peaceful solution must be ensured for real democracy to take root in Turkey.
According to the recent report published in the Netherlands, Salafist groups and radical Islamists in the country have received support from President Erdoğan. How does the Erdoğan administration support radical Islamists in the Netherlands?
This report, prepared primarily by the National Anti-Terrorism and Security Coordinator, was leaked. It is difficult to give a direct answer regarding the report that was not publicly released. We can highlight a few preliminary results. Erdoğan’s anti-West rhetoric can indeed affect the Netherlands and European security. This is not acceptable. There is no place for any extremism against our democracy and the rule of law in the Netherlands. I am particularly concerned about Dutch citizens of Turkish and Kurdish origin. Everyone should be able to live their lives freely. It is absolutely unacceptable to suppress Dutch citizens who criticize Erdoğan.
I think you will be a candidate again in the elections in the Netherlands. What are the promises of the Labour Party to the Dutch people and immigrants? What kind of election campaign are you running? Are you appealing to the Kurds?
Of course, I have an open call to the Kurdish citizens in the Netherlands, and this is the same appeal that I make to every citizen in the country: vote for the Labour Party. We need a fair economy, excellent healthcare for all, equal opportunities in education and a sustainable future. On the other hand, our party’s election programme contains – with my recommendation – a paragraph that relates to our proposed relations with Turkey: the new Dutch government should support civil society organisations in Turkey.
We have to urge the EU to suspend the accession process of Turkey officially. Turkey should implement the Istanbul Convention relating to the combating of violence against women. We have to go beyond that. A peaceful solution for oppressed minorities, for example relating to the Kurdish issue, must be placed at the top of the EU agenda. The Dutch government has to put pressure on Turkey to release Selahattin Demirtaş. We also maintain our close relations with the HDP.
Are the Copenhagen Criteria still valid, or has there been a transition from the Copenhagen Criteria to Machiavellian pragmatism? If the latter is true, does the EU still have a future?
The EU’s criteria has always been clear, and these have been further clarified with the introduction of the revised “enlargement method” last year. This new approach places democracy, human rights and the rule of law at the centre of the EU enlargement process. This does not make the EU’s approach to enlargement any less pragmatic. Over the past decade, we have seen such leaders as Viktor Orban in Hungary – a good friend of Erdoğan – downplay democratic principles. This has huge implications for the reliability and viability of the European Union.
We must be very clear about our approach regarding who wants to join the European Union. Democracy, the rule of law and human rights are at the very centre of the European project and we will not tolerate any attack on the foundations of the European Union.
I have recommended the suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria and the European Commission, with regard to this recommendation. Human rights and fundamental freedoms continue to deteriorate. A serious increase of oppression in Turkey and Turkey’s foreign policy contrasts with EU priorities. The EU should take a clear position on these matters. At the same time, it must be clearly stated that the door is always open for a democratic Turkey.
Two years ago, documents regarding the Dutch state’s support for armed groups in Syria between 2015 and 2018 were leaked. While the Lower House took the decision, Prime Minister Rutte deliberately halted the investigation with support. How can such a decision be prevented by a prime minister in a democratic country? What is the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Parliament? Will an independent investigation be conducted despite the Prime Minister’s attempt to block it?
Between 2015 and 2018, the Dutch government provided non-lethal assistance to 22 groups which it considered as “moderate” groups. Let’s be clear: this aid did not contain any weapons. The goal of the government was to stop Assad from killing his own people. The Dutch Parliament has launched an investigation into this case, which will begin after the elections. We’ll see what comes out of this.
Are you receiving threats from pro-Turkish groups?
That is a reason why I have stopped looking at responses to me on Twitter. What I am more interested in are DoS attacks against my website and my party, the Dutch Workers Party [PvdA]. A pro-government Twitter account claimed responsibility for the attacks. This is an open attempt to silence democratic criticism and this is absolutely unacceptable but I want to make an important distinction: These groups are not “pro-Turkish”, they are on the side of the current government.
This government can be described as “anti-Turkish”. Erdogan’s policies do not benefit the people of Turkey: it only benefits Erdoğan, the AKP and those around them. Being ‘pro-Turkish’ means to defend the rights of all people living in Turkey, whether in Ankara, Istanbul or Diyarbakır. Erdoğan manages the “divide and conquer” tactics for the AKP government and has deliberately sacrificed the rights of the citizens of Turkey. This does not take long.