The European Union, whose origins can be traced back to the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris, signed by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, appears today as a union, that is sui generis, both regards to its pioneering and exemplary role in economic, political and social arenas, and its unique structure in terms of understanding of democracy, and human rights and freedoms.
In this context, it would not be wrong to consider the EU as a process, during which Europe – which was in the aftermath of the Second World War in a pretty weak and disintegrated state politics, economics and military wise – redefined and restructured itself on the basis of democratic values.
Currently enjoying 28 members, with the latest addition being Croatia in 2013, the bloc has evolved into a gigantic economic and political union, which has also played a pioneering role in the democratization of the global system through the value and importance it places on democracy and democratic values.
However, considering in particular the global economic crises in the past decade, and their negative effects on the EU member states, as well as the emergence of regional actors which have started to get a bigger share of the global economy, it can be said that the current period is one of the hardest periods facing the EU ever since its establishment.
The weakening of the EU’s strong economic position has had a pretty negative impact on the economies of its member states, including in particular Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy; leading bloc members to even question the “European Union” ideal. What is most striking at this point is that the European Union has been faced with the choice of abandoning the very democratic values which it has defined itself by and advocated, in order to maintain and restore its economy, which is its main driving power. Faced with this dilemma, the bloc has distanced itself from democratic values and adopted an anti-democratic political understanding which is based on pragmatism.
The European Union, especially during the Arab Spring, almost ignored the democratic demands of the Middle Eastern nations, adopting a pragmatist stance which kept at the forefront its own political and economic interests. The starkest example of this anti-democratic and pragmatist stance is undoubtedly the support given to Egypt’s army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who staged a military coup on July 3, 2013 and overthrew the democratically elected, and legitimate government of President Mohamed Morsi.
Although the EU tried to legitimize the coup through claims that Egypt, under Morsi’s presidency, was thrown into a political, economic and social chaos, it even failed to persuade its own citizens in this matter, and was highly criticized over its anti-democratic and pragmatist stance which was in full contradiction with the values it advocated.
Similarly, in the case of the Syrian civil war which has been going on since March 2011, the EU has been rather passive, and adopted a stance that was in full contrast with democratic values, and human rights and freedoms it purported to advocate worldwide.
Moreover, the reduction of the Syrian civil war to a “refugee issue” within the Union, and the systematic communication of this to the community, can be seen as a clear example of being stuck between pragmatism and democratic values Europe deems belong to them.
This can also be observed when one considers the EU-Turkey relations which started July 31, 1959 with the application of Turkey to be a member of the European Economic Community, followed by the ongoing accession process to the EU. It is an acknowledged truth that Turkey has often been subjected to anti-democratic practices during this process, which is contrary to the EU legislation.
Still, EU-Turkey relations can be summarized as an alliance built on mutual political, military, economic and social interests, which has been going on with a certain steadiness since 1959.
However, the European Union did not react in the first hours of the coup attempt that aimed to overthrow the democratically elected government in Turkey through illegal and undemocratic ways on July 15, resulting in more than 240 people losing their lives and over 1,500 people being injured.
Moreover, the official news agencies of the EU states supported the coup attempt indirectly, and tried to legitimize it until the failure of the coup attempt. Hereafter, European politicians aimed to create political pressure on Turkey as saying that “Turkey is becoming authoritarian.”
This attitude of the bloc became the symbol of an undemocratic and pragmatic stance as unprecedented before in the EU-Turkey relations. Although military coups have been strongly criticized and not seen legal “theoretically” in the democratic conception of the EU, the examples of Egypt and Turkey have not been criticized adequately.
This situation cannot be explained in line with the concept of democracy and democratic values of the EU. In fact, the EU’s position contrary to its democratic values that define itself against Turkey is not new. This has become clear in direct proportion to Turkey’s growing roles in the region in parallel with political, economic and military developments especially in the last 10 years.
In this context, it would not be wrong to say that the European Union sees Turkey as a rival in the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa rather than a partner in political, economic and military fields because Turkey’s influence has increased in these regions. From this perception, the EU’s stance against Turkey, and its pragmatist and realpolitik policies which are far away from democratic bases, values have become clearer.
This understanding is the basis of pragmatic realpolitik aiming to take control of Turkey politically and economically and to keep Turkey in a plane parallel with the EU’s political, economic and military interest.
When we consider these determinations, we understand why the EU wanted to suppress Turkey by criticizing it with authoritativeness, restriction on human rights and freedom, freedom of thought and expression as Turkey’s policies have no match with the EU’s interest for a long while.
The EU’s ambivalent attitude against the failed coup attempt will undoubtedly affect the future of Turkey-EU relations deeply. Also, Turkey’s suspicion of the sincerity of the EU and the concept of the alliance would remain in the coming period.
In sum, the European Union, which rose from the ashes after the World War II and designated itself with democracy and democratic values, is transforming itself to a union that does not meet democratic values by moving away from human rights and freedom concepts, also accepts pragmatist realpolitik conception especially after the changing of global balance to keep alive its destabilized economy over financial crisis in last 10 years.
This multi-dimensional situation would be seen as social transformation process, which causes to rise the extreme right wing and populist political movements that influence European societies and test the European Union on democratic values that defined itself, rather than a political trend consisted in the European Union.