European politics is more than the collection of 28 national sentiments, more than the theme of yet another Sonntagsrede, more than the regular summit of national chief executives. Way more than this.

What is it that tempts Recep Tayyip Erdogon to destroy his own legacy of modernisation, by allowing protests for the saving of a park in Istanbul to escalate to an extend that people are being killed, by blocking Twitter and YouTube or, more recently, by using the victory speech in the municipal election primarily to threaten his opponents? What is it all about?

This question bothers European commentators these days. Turkey in its current state has any place in the EU, they say. Erdgon is a risk for both his country and Europe as hole.

Some simply suffer a lack of understanding, others feel vindicated in their critical attitude towards Turkey. However, all seem to agree in one thing: The Union must not accept this. Mr Erdogan’s behavior must be answered with serious consequences on the country’s EU accession negotiations.

This reaction fits with the typical European pattern of self-righteousness, being satisfied by calling injustice for what it is without considering actions or consequencies. The right answer on recent development, however, is not to suspend or even abort the accession talks but to do the exact opposite: A re-animation of the negotiations with the clear objective of Turkey’s full membership in the European Union.

Even as Ankara occassionally appears to turn its back on Europe and to look for partners and friends elsewhere, the interest in EU membership is unbroken – not least for Mr Erdogan himself. That provides the Union with major incentives and leverage that could help protect Turkey from the authoritarian temptations of its Prime Minister. This leverage is way more effective than everything Mr Erdogan’s opponents within Turkey and abroad could offer.

Today, op-eds in European newspapers are filled with the sentiment that a country being led in such an authoritarian manner is not welcome in the European club. That is ture. Under current circumstances, Turkey’s EU accession in inconceivable. It would be a long way to go, but the early years of Mr Erdogan’s reign have proven, how benefical a European perspective can be in terms of democracy and freedom. The abolition of the death penalty, constitutional reforms to limit the power of the military or the progress in the relationship with the Kurdish population including last years unilateral turce call comes to mind in this regard.

Commentators are also right to claim that the country would not be immune from undemocratic developments, once they entered the Union. That, however, is not a Turkish problem. In fact, it is acute already today, even without Mr. Erdogan (just think of Hungary or Romania). That problem has to be solved in a different way and must not be alleged as a pretext against a Turkish membership.

It is ture: An instable Turkey within the Union would be major risk. But an instable Turkey outside of is in no way less dangerous. Supporting a Turkish membership is unpopular in many member states. But European politicians must not be fooled into politically exploiting the recent undemocratic developments. Instead, the EU is well advised to use its influence to try and keep these tendencies from further escalation – for the benefit of Turkey and the benefit of the Union itself.


This piece first appeared on on April 5th (in German). Follow me on Twitter @brnshnwd

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