Normative aspect: C
Final mark: C+
Long-standing good relations with Turkey and an interest in safeguarding regional security and stability were partially at odds with the promotion of human rights and democratic principles in foreign policy. The almost complete absence of Czech criticism of the authoritarian direction taken by Turkey and the failure to embrace this topic in bilateral negotiations was puzzling.
The growing authoritarian tendencies of the Turkish regime, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, became increasingly obvious last year. These developments exposed European and Czech diplomacy to the dilemma of how to deal with the unpredictable ally. For the Czech Republic, efforts to maintain good relations with Turkey – whether for economic reasons or because Turkey is viewed as a long-term ally in the region and a partner in handling the migration crisis – prevailed over the need to criticise repression and violations of human rights.
In March, the EU and Turkey struck a deal intended to curb irregular migration to Europe. The agreement takes the form of a legally unenforceable declaration because it has not passed through due legislative process. Ankara repeatedly threatened to break the agreement throughout the year and open borders to Europe for more than three million refugees in its territory unless Europe waived visa requirements for its citizens, it received EUR 3 billion in financial assistance, and further concessions. Both Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and President Miloš Zeman pointedly dismissed such proclamations as blackmail, and the Czech Republic stood as one with the rest of the EU in demanding compliance with all conditions for granting visa-free travel. In contrast, this agreement was rejected in the Chamber of Deputies by the opposition and coalition MPs alike, thereby undermining the position of the government, which insists the deal must be respected.
After the attempted military coup in July, security forces and state administration in Turkey were purged. The media, the private sector, and the opposition were also subjected to unprecedented repression on the pretext of combating terrorism. These disturbing domestic political developments elicited sharp criticism from some European countries and EU leaders, and were behind the decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of suspending Turkey’s EU accession negotiations in November.
The Czech position, however, was generally more equable. The main topics discussed during Minister Lubomír Zaorálek’s December visit to Ankara included economic cooperation and an emphasis on the importance of the migration agreement. Despite domestic events in Turkey, the Czech side gave reassurances of its support for continued accession negotiations with the EU. The Czech Republic has long advocated Turkey’s EU membership and justifies the continuation of accession negotiations in the current climate by the need to maintain at least this final bargaining chip in relations with the highly unpredictable partner. While this argument is not entirely unfounded, undemocratic tendencies should not be left without comment in bilateral relations.