Central Europe on Turkish referendum

A principled stance from V4 nations would represent a powerful boost for the pro-democracy camp in Turkey and help improve relations with its key partners in the West

Marcin Zaborowski
21 April 2017

Despite focus on the political turmoil in EU and its flirt with illiberalism, Central Europe should not allow Turkish referendum to pass without a strong message in support of democratic standards of rule of law and freedom of expression. Hypocrisy aside, it would prove wrong the most radical critics right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, who already put them in the same slot and help understand nuances of regional politics.

As Turkey’s President Erdogan celebrates his questionable win in the referendum that changes the constitutional order, it is wise for EU leaders not rush with their congratulations. The Erdogan camp portrays the change as a shift from parliamentary democracy towards Presidential democracy. In fact, the outcome of the referendum seals Turkey’s slide towards authoritarianism.

The proposed constitutional changes will vastly increase Presidential powers and eliminate the office of Prime Minister. The Turkish judiciary has practically ceased to be independent following the purges sealed by the failed coup and by now all mainstream media are in hands of Erdogan’s supporters. Admittedly there has never been an effective checks and balances system in Turkey but following the referendum there will be none. Erdogan has also pledged to reinstate the capitol punishment, which in effect puts an end to Turkey’s ambition to join the EU even in a very distant future.

As young democracies V4 nations occupy particular position vis-à-vis Turkey in the EU context. Whilst they have their share of problems with consolidating their own democratic systems, taking a principle stance on Ankara’s embrace of authoritarianism would say a lot about their own values. In addition this would not be without significance for Turkey itself. V4 nations are watched carefully and with a degree of envy especially from Turkey’s pro-European opinion-shaping circles in Turkey.

These circles have felt abandoned and betrayed by the EU in the last decade. They would even feel more demoralised if the EU would come to receive Ankara’s march towards authoritarianism with no objection. Against this background, a principled stance from V4 nations would represent a powerful boost for the pro-democracy camp in Turkey.

Marcin Zaborowski is Senior Associate at Visegrad Insight.