The Brief: The man who would be king

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

This Sunday, Turkey will decide if it wants to appoint a dictator. Tomorrow marks exactly 30 years since the country submitted its application to join the European Union.

Turks will this weekend vote in a constitutional referendum to decide whether to switch to a presidential system from its parliamentary model. Polls show that voters are leaning towards voting in favour of the switch. But 10% remain undecided.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who would be king under the new system, could remain in power until 2029 and be granted a host of new powers if ‘yes’ wins.

The lead-up to the vote has already caused problems for Europe. A diplomatic crisis exploded after the Netherlands banned Turkey’s foreign minister from campaigning on its soil. Austria and Germany also called off pro-Erdogan events.

The president’s supporters claim that Turkey needs these reforms. But take a closer look at what is proposed.

If Erdogan gets his way, the Turkish parliament will no longer have any say over government ministers and its power to hold a vote of no confidence will be removed.

The Turkish people are only being asked to vote because the proposal didn’t get the required backing of two-thirds of MPs. If parliament’s role is reduced further, then an essential check on the abuse of power will be removed.

Erdogan will also no longer be expected to remain neutral as president and will be allowed to maintain party affiliation while in office.

His old job of prime minister will also be abolished and the president will be able to appoint four of the country’s 13 top judges.

More than 30,000 people have been arrested since last summer’s failed coup. Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

If Erdogan is handed more control of the judiciary, things could get even worse. He’s toyed with the idea of bringing back the death penalty since the coup attempt.

Erdogan is not going anywhere. Unlike David Cameron and Matteo Renzi, the Turkish leader has not promised to quit if his referendum doesn’t go his way.

That’s no surprise. This is a man who has been in charge of Turkey since 2003 and who has mobilised the country’s conservative heartland to great effect. He also won’t let a little thing like losing his voice stop him from giving speeches

Europe’s weak protests about jailed journalists and human rights violations have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Brussels is still terrified that Erdogan will follow through on his threat to axe the controversial EU-Turkey refugee deal that is keeping 3 million people out of Europe.

Part of that pact was to reboot Turkey’s stalled bid to join the EU, which has been on life support for some time.

A ‘yes’ vote on Sunday will probably pull the plug.


European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici doesn’t think Marine Le Pen will be France’s next president. He told EURACTIV France’s Cécile Barbière that voters won’t support her “suicidal” project. Moscovici also has big plans for the eurozone.

Romania’s government has been accused of illegally awarding EU money to its intelligence services. €26 million in regional development funds has been spent on a project that allegedly violates data protection laws.

Donald Trump has changed his mind about NATO. Three months after saying the very opposite he now insists it is “no longer obsolete”. Montenegro’s membership bid has also moved along.

China’s foreign minister said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be restarted and more should be done to bring about a two-state solution. His Palestinian counterpart suggested Beijing should play a larger role in the Middle East peace process.

We have details on the Commission’s eagerly awaited proposal to change labour rules for truck drivers, which is expected out next month. More on EURACTIV shortly.

NGOs insist the EU’s UK-based medicines agency should be relocated as soon as possible. Westminster will have to rely on European media more after Brexit. A new centre has been set up in Finland to counter hybrid threats.

The Brexit vote may have been influenced by foreign governments such as Russia or China, according to a committee of British lawmakers.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates that 11% of the country’s labour market is made up of international workers. Over 2 million of that 3.4 million-strong workforce are EU nationals.

Protesters formed a giant heart during an anti-government demonstration in Budapest yesterday. Doubts about the legality of a compromise suggested by Hungary’s education secretary have already been raised.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has sold his beloved football club, AC Milan, to a Chinese consortium. English football fans in Madrid last night chanted “Gibraltar is ours” and clashed with police. What could cause such petty nationalism…?

British police had their own troubles today. London’s finest struggled to catch a pig that was loose on the streets of the capital.


The Brief takes a break for Easter and is back on Tuesday. Enjoy the holiday!

Views are the author’s.

Follow: @eaTheBrief and @SamJamesMorgan

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