European leaders greeted the defeat of Turkey’s coup on Saturday with relief as it averts chaos and keeps alive a deal that has helped to stem the migration crisis threatening the continent.
But while some hope a reminder of resistance to his personal grip on power may prompt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to heed European pleas for him to respect civil rights, many fear he is far more likely to step up his crackdown on opponents and so complicate European Union efforts to maintain the bargain.
The coming weeks, starting when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday, will be crucial to the fate of a plan at the heart of the migrant deal: to have sceptical EU lawmakers approve after the summer an end to visa requirements for Turks.
Erdogan will be judged on his response ... arrests of judges are a sign that justifies deep concern that this will lead to a new trampling on rights of freedom of expression and demonstration.EU Official
Senior members of the European Parliament, where anger at the prickly Turkish leader’s treatment of elected opponents could stymie the EU deal to reward Turkey for stopping refugees, were pessimistic about the outlook for Turkish democracy.
“Erdogan will try to extend his position of power,” foreign affairs committee chair Elmar Brok, an ally of the Turkey deal’s architect German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Die Welt daily.
French President Francois Hollande expects “repression”.
If Erdogan responds to public demands to restore the death penalty to execute putschists, or if Turkey moves to jail ethnic Kurdish parliamentarians whom it stripped of immunity in May, EU lawmakers may turn against the migrant deal, EU officials said.
Turkish officials have warned that its collapse could see Ankara allow a resumption of traffic that last year saw a million people, many refugees from Syria and Iraq, cross to Greek islands and trek over open borders to Germany.
That shook Europeans’ support for the EU and, some argue, fuelled last month’s devastating British vote to leave the bloc.
Nuanced Support: This Isn’t About Erdogan
Official statements from the EU stressed backing for a democracy that many acknowledge Erdogan has himself abused.
“The EU fully supports the democratically elected government,” an early overnight statement read, taking care to add it also backed “the institutions of the country and the rule of law” – a nuanced distinction from Erdogan’s personal power.
With the plot seemingly already undone, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini followed up to urge “a swift return to Turkey’s constitutional order with its checks and balances and ... fundamental freedoms”. It seemed hardly a call to defeated soldiers dead or in jail, but rather to the victor.
“This is not about supporting Erdogan or not, it is about supporting the rule of law and democracy,” a second senior EU official involved in relations with Ankara told Reuters. This is not about supporting Erdogan or not, it is about supporting the rule of law and democracy.
Erdogan is Not Putin: Hope for Change?
Many EU diplomats argue that Turkey, faced with conflict across its borders in Iraq and Syria that has fuelled internal strife with its Kurdish minority, and at odds with Russia and most Middle East powers, cannot afford to alienate Europeans.
And some dared to voice hope on Saturday that the coup bid might make Erdogan more willing to reach beyond his own voters:
“Erdogan is not Putin - he is not that strong. We have to keep him on the democratic path,” a third EU official said.
Expressing a hope that Europeans might now warm to Erdogan again as a lesser of two evils, less unappealing than chaos, or army rule, a fourth EU official referred to the president’s call to unarmed supporters to face down the army: “If you win by saying democracy is stronger than tanks,” he said, “then the ‘democratically elected government’ should act for democracy.”
A fifth EU official was pessimistic, however: “It would be nice if Erdogan saw this as a wake-up call” to respect civil rights, he said, but a crackdown seemed “almost inevitable”.
Senior diplomats dismissed suggestions, however, that the EU had hesitated to condemn the plotters in the early hours in the hope of change. However irksome many find Erdogan, they said, statements against the putsch came as quickly as possible.
“Clearly Europe would have more reasons to worry if the coup had prevailed,” one EU official said.
(The article has been edited for length. Published in an arrangement with Reuters.)