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The Changing Milestone in Turkey-EU Relations: The July 15

The Changing Milestone in Turkey-EU Relations:
The July 15 Turkish Coup D'état Attempt

The relations between Turkey and EU has been long-standing for more than 60 years with its all ups and downs and throughout this time Turkey has been dealt with various internal and external affairs notably; 1960 and 1980 Military coup d’états, Kurdish issue, Cyprus problem, the changing of foreign policy dimensions after the ending of the Cold-War and so on.
Moreover, the only current official link between Turkey and EU has been through the Customs Union which came into force 31 December 1995 and Turkey has been declared as a candidate country to join the European Union since 1999, and also is a member of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
Although, the fact remains that the level of bilateral relations has been stayed in the areas of trading and commerce. However, the ending of coalition governments that lead to political deadlocks and starting a new phase of one- party government opened a new period of stability and non-fragility.
In this sense, since 2002 General Elections Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been stayed in power and while improving the concrete and optimistic relationship with EU, increase the number of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in Turkey.
However, considering the history of EU-Turkey relations, the changing milestone has been the Turkish coup d’état attempt on 15th July 2016 which caused the relationship between Turkey and the EU to come to a standstill point.
Just after the coup d’état attempt, Turkey’s obligatory declaration of state of emergency and taking essential security measures which reflect on immediate implications such as taking into custody the ones who can be in relation with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) which is ‘a clandestine group led by reclusive U.S based cleric, organized under the veil of education which infiltrated state offices, especially the military, judiciary, civil service, and treasury and tried to take over the government as a parallel state structure’ is not welcomed and criticized in detail by the EU in the later progress reports.

Because of the reason that not fulfilling some important criteria regarding the Readmission Agreement and visa liberation which are signed just before the coup attempt took place, created a tension between Turkey and EU will be examined throughout the essay mainly as fighting against terrorism, protection of personal information and documents and fighting against corruption.

Firstly, just few months after the coup d’état attempt, the government declared the state of emergency that started in October 2016 and lasted about two and a half years, within the scope of high security measures of fighting against terrorism of which criticized strictly by the EU in the Commission Progress Report, published in April 2018. What is remarkable here that the differentiation in understandings of ‘terrorism’ between the EU and Turkish government.
So, the definition of terrorism changes according to the perspectives and the political culture of both sides. For the EU the definition of terrorism is only an activity which the violence involved. However, for the Turkish government it is much broader and beyond what is seen from the European perspective, a high treason which directly threaten to the national unity and democracy.
Therefore, EU criticizes Turkish government by saying that it is not exactly a terrorist act but, actually nothing more than a freedom of expression and freedom of protestation. (Commission 2018).
In this sense, EU reported that as a main criticism to put this issue in the category of terrorism become the violation of the fundamental rights and fundamental values of the citizens. Hence, it underlines a total divergence of opinions and mentality between EU and Turkey which reached a deadlock here especially after the 15th of July in 2016.
Because, it is not the case for Turkey to narrow the common definition of terrorism regardless of the number of terrorist organizations that Turkey is dealing with such as PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and DAESH (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). On May 6, 2016, Erdoğan steadfastly expressed that Turkey would not reorganize its anti-terror laws in exchange for visa-free travel which the EU promised to grant Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by the end of June 2016 if Turkey met the criteria of the EU’s visa liberalization roadmap and told the EU “we will go our way, you go yours” (TRT World 2016).
It is clear that when a state has the state of emergency all the fundamental rights and values of its citizens are on hold. So, it is not possible to talk about these criteria at all if the fight against terrorism cannot be done in a transparent way. In this perspective, in publishing the Commission Progress Report of EU, the introduction is started by saying that while Turkey remains a key partner for the EU in the areas of the Middle East and hosting the Syrian refugees, it is actually moving away from EU and the Presidency conclusions of December 2016 stated that under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening (Commission 2018, 3).
Hence, it does not mean that the relationship between Turkey and EU stopped per se continues at the highest level. At the same time, the most important criticism in the report is about the long implementation of the state of emergency which is identified as the disproportionality of measures, such as widespread dismissals, arrests, and detentions that continue to raise serious concerns. It is also stated that, Turkey should lift the state of emergency without delay (Commission 2018, 4).
In addition, some of the practices were condemned which were done during the state of emergency like the ‘31 governmental decrees which have not been subject to a diligent and effective scrutiny by parliament’ (Commission 2018, 4). Accordingly, the decrees have not been open to judicial review and any of them has yet been subject to a decision process by the Constitutional Court. These emergency decrees have peculiarly undermined the certain civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and procedural rights.
Also, the key pieces of legislation were amended which will continue to have an effect when the state of emergency is lifted. Moreover, the State of Emergency Appeal Commission declared as oppressional for the reason that the capacity of Turkey to ensure an effective domestic legal remedy in the sense of the European Court of Human Rights has been further undermined by numerous unfortunate precedents.
Secondly, regarding the criticism against the protection of personal information and documents, within the scope of such coup d’état attempt which targets the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation, Turkey in fact does not have much chances other than keeping a tight grip on such data about the suspected people. However, in EU commission report, it is stated that “on the protection of personal data, the country has ratified the CoE Convention 108 on the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data and its additional protocol.” (Commission 2018, 33) Although the law is not fully in line with the EU acquis and this is exactly contrary to the balancing of data protection with the right to freedom of expression and information.
Because of the discrepancy between the both parties implementations and expectations from one another, the relations between Turkey and EU had almost reached on impasse one step further. On the other hand, what is a known truth that ‘if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at changes’ (Dyer n.d.).
So, it cannot be ignored that Turkey had a heavy loss during the coup attempt in which 179 civilians, 62 policeman and 5 soldiers lost their lives and 2195 people were injured (Mert 2016, 16) Right after the plot, Turkey has immediately established the public safety and suppressed the perpetrators while it has already begun to remove the members of FETO from all the state institutions, especially the Judiciary and Security.
Throughout the process, the legal investigations had been continued and also trigger to come to the fore the situation with regards to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. Various credible reports from human rights organisations claimed that the removal of crucial safeguards by emergency decrees has expanded the risk of impunity for perpetrators of such crimes and has led to an increase in the number of cases of torture and ill-treatment in custody.
In the mean time, one of the the UN Special Rapporteur who thereafter visiting to Turkey in late 2016 pronounced that Turkey represents an ‘environment conducive to torture’ (Commission 2018, 33). Eventually, it explains that EU is quite sensitive about accessing the personal information of citizens which Turkey must do in order to provide the security of the whole.
Thirdly, another important criticism by EU Commission report came about fighting against corruption in which Turkey had some level of preparation, yet no progress could be seen and corruption remains widespread. Especially, legal and institutional areas such as investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases which remained poor need to be met with international standards. Also, in public bodies requires, it is not showed a marked improvement regarding bolstering the accountability and the transparency in the work of public bodies (Commission 2018, 27).
However, it is a neglecting fact that while EU lacked sensitivity and consideration about the trauma of the Turkish people against the assault which directly targets democratic institutions and government, on the top of it just focus on the implications and measures which were taken after the coup attempt and defends the leniency for the coup plotters. Moreover, the strict criticism coming from the EU relating to post-coup policies and remain incapable of focusing on Turkish people’s resistance to military coup promoted the rise of Euroscepticism in Turkey (İçener 2016, 7).
. In adition, in the Commission report it is also stated that interparty political consensus and strong political will is indispensable for fighting against corruption. However, right after the coup attempt, a strong political consensus has come into view among the most supported parties including Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the major opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), in order to fight against all terrorist threats and work for amendments to the constitution.
So, it shows the inadequancy of EU in analyzing the whole picture from the persperctive of Turkish nation and government and also, there is not a strict restriction about freedom of press and expression as the opposition parties in the parliament and the media freely review and criticize the government’s post-July 15 policies and decisions.
In conclusion, considering the history of EU-Turkey relations, the Turkish coup d’état attempt on 15th July 2016 has become a breaking point which caused the relations between Turkey and the EU come to a deadlock. Just before the coup attempt, within the frame of signed Readmission Agreement and visa liberation, Turkey has to responsible to fulfill some of the criteria.
While the EU rigorously criticizes Turkish government’s policies regarding to not fulfilling the signed criteria about human rights, democracy and the right to fail trial which are named mainly as fighting against terrorism, protection of personal information and documents and fighting against corruption in European Commission Report, unfortunately it fails to demonstrating genuine solidarity with Turkish nation and promotes to rise of Euroscepticism in Turkey.
It comes to the forefront as a mere sign of the differentiation of perspectives in definition of terrorism and dissimilarity of political cultures. Just few months later from the coup d’état attempt, in October 2016, Turkey had to declare the state of emergency of which the EU criticizes the most and had taken some essential security measures which reflect on immediate implications such as taking into custody the ones who can be in relation with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) which established a parallel state structure within the Turkish state and regulating governmental decrees in order to normalize the Turkish political system within the rule of law.
. In this perspective, the failed coup attempt has not only affected Turkey-EU relations as its lack of solidarity with Turkish nation and promoting Euroscepticism throughout the process, but also damaged the EU’s image as a pure defender of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. In the sight of the public, the EU’s actions and attitudes on the July 15 coup attempt have seriously dented the European Union’s reputation and called into doubt its political, ethical, and moral leadership.
However, it remains constant that both of the parties have been in need of each other: Turkey has been a strategic and regional partner and a decent host for the Syrian refugees and asylum seekers maintains its importance for the EU which has also been a long-standing destination for Turkey in its voyage of full-membership.


Commission, European. 2018. “Commission Staff Working Document – Turkey 2018 Report.” Strasbourg. Accessed April 11, 2020.

Dyer, Wayne. n.d. Quote. Accessed April 12, 2020.

Güzel, Enes. 2019. “The July 15 Coup has dented the EU reputation.” Anadolu Agency. July 17. Accessed April 14, 2020.

İçener, Erhan. 2016. “Turkey – EU Relations after the Failed July 15 Coup Attempt.” Bilig 79: 69-87. Accessed April 13, 2020.

Mert, Ali Osman. 2016. “15 July Coup Attempt and The Parallel State Structure.” July 15th 2016. October. Accessed April 12, 2010.

Perchoc, Philippe. 2018. Future EU-Turkey relations. European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS).

World, TRT. 2016. Erdoğan to EU: We will go our way, you go yours”. May 6. Accessed April 10, 2020.

Müleyke Nurefşan İkbal Yılmaz

İstanbul 29 Mayıs Üniversitesinde Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü 4. sınıf öğrencisiyim. Üniversitemin sunduğu imkanlar doğrultusunda, bilinçli olarak Ortadoğu modülünü tercih ettim ve seçmeli alan derslerime ek olarak. bölüm dili olan İngilizcenin yanı sıra Arapça dil eğitimimi sürdürmekteyim. Küresel Siyaset ve özellikle Ortadoğu üzerine makale ve çalışmalarıma devam etmekteyim.

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