European Conservatives and Reformists is the third largest group in the European Parliament. ECR ideology for the right future for Europe is neither break-up nor superstate. The party puts forward an alternative agenda for the EU to bring together all MEPs who believe the EU cannot go on as it is and needs to change.
Hans-Olaf Henkel is a German politician and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany. He is a member of the Liberal Conservative Reformers, part of the European Conservatives and Reformists.
PPJ interviewed Mr Henkel who serves as Vise Chair of the ECR Group to get his take on the recent developments between European Union and Turkey.
Q: As a long-time member of Amnesty International, you have been closely following democracy, rule of law and human rights in Turkey. Under the state of emergency declared after July 15, 2016 failed coup, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, freedoms, properties, and even lives. Free media outlets have been closed or seized, dissident voices have been silenced. Turkey has become the number one jailer of journalists in the world. Human rights activists have been detained or arrested. AI’s Turkey Director (Taner kilic) has been arrested on terrorism charges, he has been in jail for nearly a year. Turkish government has been using the fight against terrorism as a pretext to crack down on the dissidents. What do you think about the fate of Turkish democracy?
For me Turkey has been one of the few Islamic countries if not the only one which developed into the direction of democracy, equal rights for men and women, freedom of the press. Since some years it has gone backwards and by the way that started before the coup. The coup was used by Erdogan as a pretext to eliminate the remainder of opposition.
Q: The refugee influx to Europe has given a significant leverage to President Erdogan against Europe. He even publicly threatened Western countries with opening the gates for refugees and sending them to Europe with busses. And later, the EU has made a refugee deal with Ankara. What do you think about this agreement?
It is a shameful deal for both, Turkey and EU. Especially Ms. Merkel is to blame for it because her decision to let hundreds and thousands of refugees into Germany made the entire EU subject to Erdogan’s blackmail.
Q: President Erdogan has voiced several times his intention to participate Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Similarly, we see close cooperation between Ankara, Moscow and Tehran. Within this scope, what do you think about the future of Turkey-EU relations? Is Turkey drifting away from Europe? Is it plausible to imagine a Turkey as a member of both EU and SCO?
First of all, Erdogan’s policies have made it impossible for Turkey to join the EU. In fact I believe the EU should now stop all further negotiations and more importantly stop paying Turkey any further funds with the objective to get them closer to Europe. Erdogan is as much a dictator as Putin.
Q: When the EP voted in favor of Turkey’s EU accession talks in 2004, Erdogan’s AKP was in power. Ironically, when the EP voted for the suspension of accession talks in late 2016 and mid-2017, the AKP was still in power. Any comment on this?
The AKP of 2004 is not the same as it is today. It’s as simple as that.
Q: In recent years, there has been growing authoritarianism in Turkey. The latest EU report has directed the harshest-ever criticisms against Turkey on worsening human rights situation, deteriorating rule of law and democracy. However, the report was criticized by Ms. Kati Piri, the Turkey Rapporteur, for not giving clear message to Turkey’s leaders. Do you think Europe is successful to cope with authoritarianism in Turkey?
No, because Chancellor Merkel’s refugee policy has strengthened Erdogan’s position. He blackmails the entire EU with the threat to reopen the refugee floodgates.
Q: The referendum process in 2017 strained Turkey’s relations with some European countries, particularly those with large Turkish communities. Some EU countries have already announced that they will not give permission for election rallies. Are we going to witness the second round of the clash of verbal assaults?
I am afraid yes! While Erdogan suppresses his opposition at home he sends his propaganda troops to Germany. He is more successful there than at home as the results of the last referendum has shown. There is opposition to Erdogan among the Turks in Germany than in Turkey! By the German Government agreeing to Turkey‘s foreign minister campaigning in Germany it clearly supports the AKP!
Q: Erdogan’s government has been pursuing a witch-hunt policy against the followers and sympatizers of the Gulen Movement both in Turkey and abroad. Turks living abroad and even foreigners have been profiled by Turkish intelligence. In some European countries, Pro-Erdogan Turks and even Turkish imams were used for intelligence gathering about the dissidents. Do you think the Turkish government’s effort to extend its long arms into Europe will cause further crisis.
I think that most European countries understand that Gulen‘s movement isn‘t exactly one which liberates Turkish women or is tolerant towards other religions. But Erdogan‘s attempts to go after Gulen‘s supporters all over the world is ridiculous. Let us not forget only a few years ago they were acting together.