#OccupyGezi can bring Turkey closer to the EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Accepting criticism from people and movements will do Turkey good, as protests give a sense of urgency for a reform of the constitution that should lower the 10% threshold for parliament and give people more rights via-a-vis the state, writes Ska Keller.

Ska Keller is a German politician and Member of the European Parliament from the Alliance '90/The Greens. Keller specialises in the issues of migration and EU-Turkey relations.

Turkey's prime minister has ambitious ideas for the secret capital of Turkey, Istanbul. He wants to build a new channel around the city, a third airport and a huge mosque.

The construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus has started. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has called his own ideas crazy. One of them, maybe the one that sounded the least crazy, is building yet another shopping centre in the heart of Istanbul – at Taksim square, in what is now one of the last green islands in Istanbul: Gezi park.

The violent eviction of a few park squatters triggered the protests which are still going on for more than a week now. While the demonstrations have been a constant during the past days and the numbers of protesters have been increasing, the reasons for their discontent have shifted.

First, people stood up against the eradication of the last green space in central Istanbul. Then, the anger turned against the disproportionate police violence, with more than a thousand people arrested, even for "crimes" like tweeting, several dead and several thousand injured.

While this remains an urgent topic, protesters look at the bigger picture now: they want an end to the authoritarian form of government, they want their voice to be heard. While not all protesters necessarily share the idea that Erdo?an must go, his style of governing is certainly under attack.

In the past years, with the backing of a stable majority in elections, he has attempted to change Turkey. With his salami slicing tactic of small changes at a time, it was hard to see the turning point.

Surely, it makes no sense to exclude veil-wearing women from universities and certain professional positions. Surely, limiting alcohol consumption has been tried by other governments, without them falling under the suspicion of harbouring a Islamist agenda. And yes, unsustainable transport policies and the building of more streets, against all logic, is not unheard of. But each little step has been forming a bigger picture over the years.

People living in Turkey have usually seen it more clearly than those looking from afar. Pushing through your topics and promoting the interests of your voters is nothing unusual for a party leader who received a substantial majority in several elections and who is uncontested in his party. But that does not make it right.

The electoral winners need to govern a country, not just half of it. If they forget this, they might still get support from their usual supporters, but the opposition to their plans will be more ferocious.

This is happening to Erdo?an right now. He thought he could just do what he wanted with the country and its population. Since the media do not dare to criticise him anymore, he does not have to be afraid of what he thinks is the public opinion.

But the public opinion is not what is written in the newspaper. Tens of thousands of people who are protesting every day all over the country is not a marginal fraction of radicals. These are normal people who have been swallowing many of those small steps in the past and might even agree with some of them. But they contest the bigger picture.

Even inside the AKP, opposition is forming itself. President Gül called for dialogue. The deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc has followed a similar line, calling for peace and dialogue, just when Erdo?an was away. They stand in stark contrast to the hard line the prime minister is taking and that he seems unwilling to change.

The hard line is threatening to harm Turkey's economy as well as the AKPs next election results. On the polls, however, there are not many alternatives. Even though Erdo?an accused the opposition party CHP of staging the protests, this is far from true and the CHP does not offer an alternative to many progressive (young) people.

Whether a new political force will develop out of the protests is unclear for the moment. While the target of protest is clear, finding common positions will be difficult. However, we should not write this off either. For the first time, the citizens have stood up to demand that their rights are fulfilled.

Even if only a tiny bit of this drive survives over the next few months, it might change something fundamental in Turkey. And I predict that this would not be a bad thing for the EU accession talks.

A strong civil society, citizen's engagement, more choice on the election ballot, different views and a discussion inside the ruling party, a public debate about what future people want for Turkey are all vital ingredients for a successful accession negotiation.

And more could follow: acknowledging pluralism will help dealing with minorities, accepting criticism from people and movements will do Turkey good and the protests give a sense of urgency for a reform of the constitution that should lower the 10% threshold for parliament and give people more rights via-a-vis the state."

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.