Turkije en Nederland begrijpen elkaar steeds beter

Opinion piece about the restored diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Published in Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 23 July 2018. Underneath is the Dutch version. The English one is here: Turkey and the Netherlands’ converging ideologies.

De diplomatieke relaties tussen Nederland en Turkije zijn hersteld, zo bleek vrijdag uit een gezamenlijke verklaring van de ministers van buitenlandse zaken van Nederland en Turkije. Wat er niet werd bijgezegd, is dat de regeringen van beide landen ideologisch steeds meer op één lijn zitten, aldus journalist Fréderike Geerdink.

Lees verder bij De Volkskrant.

 

Laffe EU staat niet principieel achter Turkse persvrijheid

(This is a story from late 2016, that was already on my website but not archived, and newsletter subscribers will get an alert that it’s ‘published’ now.)

Koerdische media krijgen klappen, maar Europa houdt onder Turkse druk haar mond.

Lees het hele stuk op de site van de Volkskrant. The English version is available here.

EU’s cowardice shows lack of support for press freedom in Turkey

(This is a story from late 2016, that was already on my website but not archived, and newsletter subscribers will get an alert that it’s ‘published’ now.)

The European Commission spoke out for press freedom in Turkey. Which seems praiseworthy – until you take a closer look.

Read the full story here on Byline! The Dutch version was published at the site of Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

High Turkish honour for Dutch politician

ANKARA – Dutch politician René van der Linden received a high Turkish honour from the Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Thursday. The ChristianDemocrat is now a member of the Order of the Republic, the highest honour for non heads of state.

Van der Linden (l) right after receiving the honour.
Van der Linden (l) right after receiving the honour.

Van der Linden (69) received the honour for his years of efforts to improve relations between the Netherlands (and Europe) and Turkey. As President of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and also inside his own party the CDA he always pleaded the case of Turkey’s EU membership.
He also played an important role in the celebrations of 400 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey, in 2012. During many visits to Turkey, Van der Linden built up a personal friendship with President Gül.

During the presentation in the presidential palace in the Turkish capital of Ankara President Gül praised Van der Linden’s efforts for democracy: ‘He opposed any artificial divisions over such criteria as religion, language, race and culture.’ Several Turkish ministers attended the ceremony.

Van der Linden is the third person to receive the Order of the Republic. Van der Linden said at the reception following the ceremony: ‘If you want to contribute to building relations with a country, personal connections are very important. Then you can also give criticism without it being perceived as criticism. Receiving this honour is very emotional for me. Turkey is part of my life.’

Kurdish permitted in Turkish courts

ISTANBUL – The Turkish parliament has passed a law that permits the use of Kurdish in court houses. The right to defend oneself  in one’s mother tongue is an important demand of the Kurdish political movement.

The law was approved after an emotional debate. Some opposition MP’s claim the use of any other language than Turkish in courts will break the unity of the country.

Kurdish MP’s on the other hand think the law doesn’t go far enough: only in certain parts of a court case will the use of other languages than Turkish will be permitted, and the accused has to pay for a translator himself. For those reasons the law also doesn’t meet EU standards.

The Turkish government says it is determined to solve the Kurdish question in the country. This law is part of that process.

In Turkey hundreds of political court cases against Kurds are in stalemate because the use of Kurdish has been totally forbidden up until now.

Dutch MEP causes controversy in Turkey

ISTANBUL (ANP) – The Dutch Europarliamentarian Ria Oomen-Ruijten caused controversy during her visit to Turkey. During a meeting she said that hunger strikes have no place in democracies. Some people couldn’t swallow that. An MP for the pro-Kurdish BDP party tweeted angrily on Saturday morning about Oomen-Ruijten: ‘Apparently Ruijten thinks Turkey is a democracy’.

Oomen-Ruijten made her statement on Friday during a meeting of the German Marshall Fund in the Turkish capital Ankara. She is visiting Turkey in her role as Turkey rapporteur for the EU. In several Turkish prisons some 700 Kurdish inmates are on hunger strike, some of them already for the 67th day.

Oomen-Ruijten to ANP news agency: ‘The hunger strike tool isn’t suitable for a democracy. When you want attention for a subject, there are other ways, for example via politics. You cannot just hold a hunger strike to quickly enforce something.’

The demands of the hunger strikers are the right to use Kurdish in education and in court, and an end to the isolation of PKK leader Öcalan, who has not been able to meet with his lawyers and family for over a year now. Oomen-Ruijten: ‘There is a bill in parliament to allow Kurdish in courts. The acceptance of Kurdish education is being rolled out, as I understand. The last demand, related to Öcalan, well, the Turkish government won’t give in to that. He is leading a terrorist organisation, we agree on that in Europe. No, there should be no negotiations with the PKK.’

The Kurdish MP Hasip Kaplan tweeted angrily about his European-Dutch colleague: ‘Apparently Ruijten thinks that Turkey, which still has a constitution written by military leaders, is a democracy. In Turkey, even the smallest expression of democracy is reacted against by the police with tear gas, and anyone who doesn’t see that, shares responsibility for it.’

Kaplan claims Europe is too tolerant towards Turkey, and that Turkey became ‘naughty’ because of that, in other words, no longer democratizes. Oomen-Ruijten tells ANP news agency she doesn’t agree Turkey is not a democracy: ‘Turkey is a democracy with flaws, just like so many democracies in Europe.’

 

Turkey disappointed by EU report

ISTANBUL – Turkey is deeply disappointed by the latest so-called progress report of the European Union. The report was presented in Brussels today. It is full of generalisations and prejudice, and it sounds like the EU listened too much to action groups, declared Egemen Bagis, chief negotiator with the EU and Minister of EU Affairs.

The report acknowledges that Turkey has made progress in at least 32 negotiation chapters. At the same time it signals serious shortcomings in the areas of press freedom, the freedom of opinion and assembly, in the long delays in judicial procedures and the lack of policies to solve the Kurdish issue in a democratic way.

Minister Bagis linked the negativity of the report to the fact that (Greek) Cyprus has been holding the EU Presidency since July this year. According to him, that aggravated the negativity of the report. Turkey has frozen its dialogue with the EU because of the Cypriot Presidency. The stalemate in the situation around the divided island of Cyprus is the biggest hump in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU, which have effectively been stalled.

They will renew the dialogue with Europe in January, when Ireland will take over the Presidency. Bagis stated that in the meantime Turkey will keep on reforming and that membership of the EU is still a goal.

Turkish faith in EU at all-time low

ISTANBUL – Only 17% of Turks believe Turkey will become an EU member, according to a poll by a Turkish bureau that was quoted on Wednesday in the Turkish media. Last year this percentage was 34%.

The Turkish European Foundation For Education And Scientific Studies questioned more than 1,100 Turks in eight different cities.

In 2004 Turkey was full of hope for EU membership and a majority wanted to join the union. In December of that year it was announced that the accession negotiations could start, and in 2005 they actually began. Turkey had just recovered from a deep economic crisis and was counting on more economic stability if it could join the EU. There was also hope that the accession process would be good for the democratisation of the country.

But by now Turkey is doing way better than Europe when it comes to economic growth. Since 2004 steps have been made in democratisation, but there is less of a feeling that Turkey still needs Europe.

The way some EU countries behave towards Turkey dampens enthusiasm even more: both France and Germany don’t support Turkey’s EU membership.

 

Turkey follows own course in agricultural policy

ISTANBUL – Within a few weeks, when the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice approaches, they will be shipped into Turkish harbours again: thousands of cows and sheep. Production in Turkey isn’t enough to meet the high demand during the Feast of Sacrifice. For those few weeks, Turkey gets closer to Europe, which demands that import restrictions that Turkey has for cattle be abolished.

The temporary easing of import restrictions on meat have nothing to do with demands of the European Union. That’s why they will most probably be re-imposed again some time after the Feast. Professor Erol Cakmak of TED University in the Turkish capital Ankara, an expert on Turkey’s agricultural policy, understands that perfectly: ‘The agricultural chapter in the accession talks between Turkey and the EU hasn’t been opened yet because of the disagreement about Cyprus. Nobody can say when the Cyprusissue will be solved, so it’s also unclear when the agricultural chapter will be opened. So why should Turkey now harmonize its policy with the EU, while its policy works for the domestic market?’

Two years ago, Turkey levied a 135% tax on imported cattle. That was reduced to 40% and is by now down to 30%. Bovine animals are mainly imported from SouthAmerica and countries close to Turkey, like Bulgaria. Sheep are mainly shipped in from Australia and NewZealand. The trade is intended to meet demand and to keep meat prices at reasonable levels.
They are much higher than the average European price: last year more than €12.50 per kilo for beef, almost €26 for a kilo of lamb. During the previous Feast of Sacrifice, last November, Turks used to joke about the high meat prices: ‘This year, we won’t slaughter animals but tomatoes’.

Good profits

Turkey’s economy is growing, despite the worldwide crisis, and in agriculture too things are going well, says professor Cakmak: ‘It’s even going so well that the sector is attracting private investors, including from abroad. That didn’t exist before, but nowadays it can make good profits.’
Also in the animal breeding sector foreign investors are no longer an exception. Especially in the West and the South of the country, for example, Argentinean companies are moving in seeking to profit from the 72 million Turkish meat eaters. ‘They settle here despite the insecurities that come with the Turkish policies’, says Professor Cakmak. ‘Meat will be imported for as long as the domestic market can’t meet the demand, nothing more. Turkey tries to manage the prices as much as possible. The idea is that the domestic prices shouldn’t be influenced too much by the prices on the international market.’

And that is against EU policy, which has tried to have the prices set as much as possible by market mechanisms. ‘Yes, in that respect, Turkey is drifting away from Europe’, says Cakmak. ‘But Turkey has that freedom. Don’t forget, the country went through a deep economic crisis more than ten years ago and recovered from that with help from the World Bank and by all sorts of reforms, including in agriculture.’ Since 2009 the interference of the World Bank is over and Turkey maps out its own plan. That includes agricultural subsidies: as much as 75% to 80% of production receives tariff support, a percentage that is contrarily decreasing in the EU.

No problem, says Cakmak: ‘It is not so difficult to adjust the agricultural policy when the time is right’, referring to a realistic prospect on EU accession, including an accession date. ‘The EU tends to solve these things with new members. Just like the EU did with earlier new members whose agricultural policy was very different from the EU’s, like Poland and Romania. So I’m confident the same can be done with Turkey.’

Model country

He remarks how Turkey has over the last year been seen as a model country, ever since the start of the Arab Spring. What has that to do with agriculture policies? ‘Not too much, you would say’, he laughs. ‘But really, it’s amazing how many requests I get to speak about Turkey’s agricultural policy. I travel a lot to NorthAfrica and the Middle East. Turkey matters in the region, apparently they want to know how Turkey outlines its policies, including on agriculture.’

And that is: on its own. Just like the foreign policy of the country, which doesn’t spinelessly bow to EU wishes or the interests of its good friend the United States. Cakmak points out that it’s also no sure bet to adjust to the EU when it comes to agriculture. He smiles and says: ‘Do you know how unstable European agricultural policy is? How can Turkey adjust to rules that are being changed constantly? That’s like aiming at a moving target.’

Real estate market for holiday homes very much alive

ISTANBUL – The real estate market for holiday homes is still very much alive in Turkey, as opposed to those in other Mediterranean countries, like Spain. The favourable exchange rate of the Turkish lira and the fast-growing Turkish economy are the most important reasons.

Turkeycame under the spotlight in the eighties as a country where Europeans could buy real estate for good prices. There have been some serious dips related to political instability and economic downturns: a bit more then ten years ago the country was hit by a deep economic crisis. Drastic reforms, for example in the banking sector, helped the country recover. Besides which, since 2002 Turkey has no longer been governed by weak coalition governments but by a still popular party, the AKP, which brings relative stability.

More careful

‘A few years ago we were affected by the emerging economic crisis in Europe’, says Monika Kramer, who works for TIA Group real estate in the Southern Turkish city of  Antalya, and who also sells houses to Dutch people, being a German woman speaking fluent Dutch. ‘Especially the older and lower quality houses went down in price, causing an overall levelling in market valuations.’

The exchange rate of the Turkish currency, the lira, helped the real estate market to recover from the dip: the lira was much stronger five years ago than it is now. That not only reduces the cost of buying a house, but also the cost of daily living inTurkey. ‘Still, I do notice people have become a bit more careful’, says Kramer. ‘Before, people would buy straight away. Now people rent a house for some time first, so they can get a feel for the market and decide in which village or in which neighbourhood they would like to buy their own place.’

Retired people

TheAntalyaregion is one of the most popular among foreign buyers on the Turkish coast, and the region where the largest numbers of Dutch people settle, mostly retirees. The smaller town ofAlanyaand the villages around it in particular are locations in demand. Already 44,000 foreigners live there, among them some 3,800 Dutch nationals – by comparison, in 2005 that number was only 1,900.

Ümit Rehir of the local paper Antalya Ekspres confirms the real estate market is doing well: ‘The foreigners who buy here are mostly elderly people and the economic crisis inEuropeis hurting them less than young people.’ It’s hard to generalise about prices, he says: ”You can buy an expensive villa here but also a very affordable apartment”.

Inflation

According to Monika Kramer of the TIA Group, the relatively expensive houses especially have gone down in price:”The houses that were over-priced for their quality and location. During the dip of a few years ago the prices of those units have become more realistic.“

For Turks too, buying a house has become more achievable over the last few years. Because of the spectacular decrease in inflation, (which could reach 80% ten to fifteen years ago, but is at most 10% now,) and the ever-expanding economy, a mortgage system was launched and buying a house became a possibility for a much larger number of Turks.