We knew all along that fighting the Gülen Movement, or “parallel structure,” best known for its alleged attempt to overthrow the government on Dec. 17 2013, would be a challenging task in at least two ways. First and foremost, the obligation to abide by the rule of law in bringing the operatives to justice entails the investigation’s extension over a long period of time. At this point, the judiciary, whose credibility has been severely damaged over the past years by the movement’s members themselves, cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials among other cases. Furthermore, the courts will have to stand their ground against elaborate PR campaigns of the threatened parallel structure. The second problem relates to this intense media campaign at home and abroad. The anti-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) campaign, which was carefully constructed, has become increasingly complex. As a matter of fact, reactions from EU officials, who did not bother to skim through the Dec. 14 file, indicate that they will continue to tarnish Turkey’s image in the international arena.
There is no doubt that addressing the problem of the parallel structure, an organization no state would possibly tolerate, represents an absolute necessity for Turkish democracy. We can either assume that EU representatives are simply unable to imagine such a phenomenon and therefore cannot grasp the developments in Turkey, or worse, one could concluded that they exploit the issue in order to put pressure on Turkish authorities.
Having kept Turkey at the negotiating table for a decade, the EU has little power left over the nation’s political scene. When High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and others visited the country recently, there was optimism about new chapters being opened soon. Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promptly responded to EU criticism citing democratic values and the freedom of the press: “No offense, but we are not servants of the European Union. They should either admit Turkey into full membership or not. Those who wave their fingers on the nation as if they were our teachers must understand that this is not the old Turkey.” Some commentators were quick to identify the president’s response as a sign of the country breaking away from Europe. Others, suggesting that Turkey, having turned away from democracy, would have to part ways with the EU, invoked the authoritarianism argument – part and parcel of the anti-AK Party campaign supported by the parallel structure itself.
Meanwhile, the argument that turning away from the EU will turn Turkey into Russia strives to hurt the credibility of the AK Party, which has pioneered the country’s transformation, in the international arena. It goes without saying that Turkey’s relations with the EU and international image matter. One thing, however, cannot be ignored. Fighting the parallel structure is a requisite for continued stability and a stronger democracy in Turkey. More importantly, the nation’s new foreign policy rests on the principle that it can and will criticize the EU and other key players when it deems necessary. The “new” Turkey’s relations with the EU in other words, reflect the notion of critical integration that represents a third way between complete rejection and unquestioning obedience. In this sense, integrating into the EU and, more broadly, the West, represents a fundamental strategic priority for Turkey – but not without preconditions and negotiation.
Integration into the EU must first and foremost remain open to some degree of autonomy that allows Turkey to pursue its national interests and self-identified priorities. It cannot, furthermore, prevent the nation from speaking out against injustice around the world and inaction in the Middle East. Finally, the relationship must rest on mutual respect and interaction between equal partners. To be sure, Turkey has already made necessary preparations to pursue these goals.