Murat Yetkin - 

Journalist-Writer

Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu meets with Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy and security chief, in Brussels on Jan. 21. (Photo: Turkish Foreign Ministry)

As the Turkish government discusses reforms to tidy up the current mess but avoiding any political losses, what top officials say reminds of a “good cop, bad cop” analogy, rather than being contradicting statements.

For example, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s statement that reforms will contribute to the positive atmosphere with the European Union is beyond inconsistency with the practice. Or President Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks that read “Our friends get angry but I am against high-interest rates.” Or Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül calling on the courts to abide by the Constitutional Court decisions right after the highest court in the country ruled for a second time on “rights violation” in the case into former lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu. Erdoğan even made fun of criticisms against criticisms over promoting Istanbul Public Prosecutor İrfan Fidan and appointed him as a member of the Constitutional Court.
The whole thing has only one connotation for me: The good cop, bad cop game.

The good cop, bad cop trick

Readers of detective stories or those who were interrogated at the police station would know about the game. One of the cops behaves rudely and cruelly to the interrogated suspect as the other one tries to be nice, trying to convince the person in question to tell secrets.

And this game has room in politics. You can see a party official playing hard on a rival party official in parliament as two others from both parties bargain in the shadows. Or, on the eve of a compromise, someone from your own party unexpectedly opposes you, and you make concessions by reasoning it by telling your interlocutor that “There is nothing I can do against objections from the party grassroots”.

The game is also included in the diplomacy toolboxes. For example, the country needs to renew its code of struggle against terrorism as part of the political negotiations with the European Union.

A shift limited to repair the damage done by the state of emergency measures that followed the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. But the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party in Turkey’s case, might tell the EU and the opposition parties in this country that “There is nothing I can do against objections from the MHP,” referring to its election partner, the Nationalist Movement Party.

Diplomacy with ‘Jannisary steps

Yet another tactic to alternate the cop game, is the march to the Jannisary music of the Ottoman. It is basically two steps forward, a halt, two steps more, and a gesture to take a step back.

Turkey’s expectations from the EU are obvious: Renewal of the agreement on Syrian migrants, visa ease deal, resumption of EU accession talks and invitations to EU summits. Can Turkey achieve it all? It depends on the negotiation. The EU’s expectations from Turkey are obvious. Reconciliation with Greece, end to fighting with France, sustaining control on migrant flow and judicial reform. Can Turkey offer them all? This also depends on the negotiation.

Mutual steps have been taken. Erdoğan and French President Emmanuel Macron have stopped insulting each other, writing letters of courtesy. After Erdoğan extended flowers to EU Ambassadors in Ankara on Jan. 12, Minister Çavuşoğlu held talks with EU and NATO officials in Brussels on Jan. 21 and 22. It was announced that the negotiations with Greece, which were interrupted in 2016, would resume in Istanbul on Jan. 25, immediately after the withdrawal of Oruç Reis seismic vehicle to the port of Antalya and the frigates that accompanied it to the Aksaz base.

Many promises but no action yet

The reform issue emerged during this period. Erdoğan began to talk about the necessity of reform on Nov. 13, right after the election loss of Donald Trump became obvious and Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak withdrew from the helm of the economy.

We learned on Jan. 21 that a reform draft was prepared by the joint efforts of the Justice, Interior, Treasury and Finance ministries and the AKP headquarters, and it was presented to Erdoğan. We are yet unaware of its content. So far, some steps have been taken toward reconciliation –albeit always reversible– in foreign policy, particularly in the case of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, but on the reform issue, it is just promises, not concrete steps.

One of the main reasons behind the moves in foreign politics is that Ankara understands that West wants to build a united front against Russia, just like the one during the Cold War but this time adding China to the other side of the front. Let’s be honest, the quality of human rights in Turkey is not the major concern of the EU or the U.S.

At this point, Erdoğan benefits from the statements by his ally, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli who calls for the closure of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the continuation of arrest of its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş or activist Osman Kavala.

Are we deceiving the EU or ourselves?

The situation about rights and freedoms saw a big change after the EU deceived Turkey on the Cyprus issue back in 2004. What depreciated in the last five or six years is not limited to the quality of democracy in Turkey. Today there are some EU members, such as Hungary or Poland, that cannot be considered “full democracy.” New U.S. President Joe Biden took his oath in the shadow of a coup attempt, as 25,000 soldiers were patrolling the streets of the capital for security.

On the other hand, it is clear that the rights and freedoms that were restricted after the 2016 military coup attempt have now become a strain on the economy and politics. Erdoğan also sees this and he will loosen some of these restrictions under the name of reform, but not letting the AKP lose control. And the EU will embrace these as steps in the right direction, as it does not want Turkey to Russian in foreign policy and security.

The emphasis on the need for courts to comply with the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the ECHR –a fact already headlined in the Constitution– can be meaningful as part of such a framework. Still, the ruling party introduces some safety measures in the system, such as by appointing İrfan Fidan as a member of the Constitutional Court; a CC member can serve there for 12 years. The EU (and the USA) may see the reform steps as sufficient in return for a compromise in the eastern Mediterranean, it may even make concessions to investors such as visa freedom.

Then would we be deceiving the EU? Or would the EU be deceiving us? I think it would rather be us deceiving ourselves.

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