Taksim Square Protest: Turkey in the EU? Not After the Istanbul Protests

As Taksim Square enters its third week of anti-government protests, it’s clear that the Erdogan crackdown on dissent may have caused irreparable damage to Turkey’s prospects to join the European Union.

Despite expectations of full membership by 2022 — the Turkish Republic’s centennial anniversary — a resolution issued on Thursday by the European Parliament condemning the government crackdown has cast doubt on Turkey’s ability to meet EU human rights standards.

Placing a further strain on relations, Turkish Premier Erdogan has responded by flatly rejecting European authority over Turkish affairs, claiming that if the protests have tested Turkish democracy, his government has passed “with flying colors.”

However, many in Europe disagree. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle instead urged Erdogan to uphold "the spirit of European values." The Germans, long lukewarm towards Turkish integration, have been reluctant to continue with the planned negotiations on regional policy next week, a key step on the road to accession.

But not everyone in Europe has turned on Turkey, with many in the European Commission — the union’s unelected executive body — disagreeing with the rhetoric coming out of Berlin. To these Euro-loyalists, continuing on the road to full membership is the only way to ensure Turkey’s stability.

Whether Turkey is still interested in joining Europe after years of false starts and misplaced expectations remains to be seen. Any improvements to Turkey’s human rights record have been thrown quickly into reverse after the response to Taksim Square.

Even though Erdogan has partially conceded to protesters by offering a referendum on the square’s development, the dissent was initially met with tear gas, bulldozers, and rubber bullets. Faced with public opposition Erdogan has followed in the footsteps of the Arab dictators, placing blame for the unrest on foreign media and terrorist influence. 

That Turkey’s EU minister, Egemen Bagis, was the official who connected the demonstrators with terrorists shows how unconcerned the government has become with conforming to European human-rights standards. Bagis said on Saturday, “The protests from now on will play into the hands of some separatist organizations that want to break the peace and prioritize vandalism and terrorism.”

After years of negotiation, a European Turkish Republic has never looked so unlikely. Despite years of piecemeal improvements on human rights, the Erdogan government has shown it is still not willing to give up its authoritarian control. Faced with almost insurmountable hurdles, Taksim Square may have been the end of Turkey’s European ambitions.

For more updates on Turkey and other stories, follow me on Twitter @alexebennett.