The results of the European Parliament (EP) elections, which will be determinative in Europe’s policy in the coming years, are expected to adversely affect not only Turkey’s European Union accession process but also the situation of Muslim immigrants in European capitals as Euroskeptic and far-right parties have made strong gains in the elections, experts agree.
During the past decade, the EP was the most important supporter of Turkey’s EU membership among the union’s institutions; however, the increasing number of Euroskeptics in the parliament is considered a great concern to observers, who believe that opposing voices on Turkey’s membership will increase following the elections.
According to observers, four days of elections across 28 countries will have a profound impact on national politics in EU countries and that a harsher stance will be adopted against Muslims and immigrants as far right parties have significantly increased their votes.
On Monday Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, European Union affairs minister, stated that it was worrisome that far-right parties in Europe have gained ground in the elections. “We see that support for the racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant parties has increased in Europe. This threatens European values and contradicts the objectives of the European institutions,” said Çavuşoglu.
According to observers in Europe, the rise of Euroskeptic parties in two large EU countries, France and the UK, will create an unfavorable atmosphere for Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.
France’s National Front with 25 percent and Britain’s UKIP (UK Independence Party) with 27 percent were among Euroskeptic parties to make big gains in the elections. Both parties, according to preliminary results, topped the vote in their respective countries. Anti-EU parties also polled strongly in Denmark and Italy. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) scored 35 percent. According to European Union expert Can Baydarol, the rise of the far right in European capitals was due to the problems within the union in past years.
The elections are threatening not only the Turkey-EU process, but also the EU’s structure and organization, say experts, referring to the record number of members of the EP (MEPs) who are hostile or skeptical about the European Union that have triumphed in France, Denmark and Austria.
Baydarol stated there was increasing racism in European streets in recent years and that this increase was affecting the stance of political figures in the union. “If the EU fails to develop a strategic vision towards Turkey, the coming five years will be tough for Ankara,” he told Today’s Zaman.
“As Euroskepticism is on the rise in both crisis-hit and rich member states, the new EP might be the most anti-Europe ever,” Maria Eleni Koppa, an MEP and vice chair of the EP Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, told Today’s Zaman during a meeting in Brussels in April, adding that while the perception of Turkey in the EP is not very positive, the actions of the Turkish government have not helped to change this perception.
“[Turkey’s accession] will be a big challenge,” she added.
After the recent corruption scandal in Turkey, European officials have raised concerns over the fate of Turkey’s EU accession, which is already stalled over some EU members’ reluctance to allow Turkey to join the union and the unresolved Cyprus dispute.
Prior to the elections, opposition voices among EP candidate members were already being raised regarding Turkey’s membership in the EU. France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen said in an interview that she did not have a problem with Turkey but that the main problem in France was the “visibility” of Islam.
She also said she was against Turkey’s EU membership and could not understand why Turkey was seeking membership of a union that everyone wanted to get out of, while admitting that the EU was not acting fairly toward Ankara.
The National Front triumphed in elections for the first time in its history, with as many as 24 seats in the parliament, the EU’s only elected institution, which works with the European Commission and 28 governments to debate and pass laws.
Le Pen is considered an Islamophobe who promotes policies and actions that are anti-Islam. However, Islamophobia is not the only item on the agenda of her party; she is also opposed to a common currency in Europe. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the breakthrough by the National Front a political earthquake.
However, Çavuşoğlu does not believe that the victory of Le Pen’s party in France will have a negative reflection on Turkey’s EU accession process, adding that France’s stance towards Turkey’s membership has changed during the tenure of President François Hollande.
Hollande was elected as the French president in May 2012, defeating his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who remained a steadfast opponent of Turkish membership in the EU during his term in office. Hollande, on the other hand, has softened the French stance, lifting Paris’s objection to the opening of talks on one of the five blocked chapters and thus paving the way for the resumption of the accession talks.
Election of EC president and its impact on Turkey
Meanwhile, the EP elections will also shape the outcome of the battle for the most powerful post in Brussels, the new president of the EU executive, the European Commission. EU leaders will meet on Tuesday and begin negotiations with the EP to choose the next EC president.
“The most important thing is the election of the EC president and its impact on Turkey,” said Baydarol.
If Jean-Claude Juncker from the European People’s Party (EPP) is elected, this will be a bad news for Turkey as Junker strongly opposes Turkey’s EU membership, say observers.
“But if Martin Schulz, the European socialist candidate, gains support and wins the election, a positive period can be expected for Turkey,” said Baydarol.
However, in their final debate on German television ahead of the EU elections, the two leading candidates for the European Commission promised that Turkey would not join the club under their watch.
“I always supported Turkey’s EU accession,” acknowledged Schulz, adding, “But at the moment the country is dramatically distancing itself from the EU’s democratic values.”
There are also some observers who believe that although there is shrinkage in the center-right and center-left bloc of the Greens, the Social Democrats, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, which support Turkey’s EU membership in the EP, the new combination is not so alarming in that the negotiations between the EU and Ankara have already slowed down.
Although the elections indicate that the power balance in the EP will shift to right-wing politics, the center-right still occupies the majority in the parliament.