Standing up for European values

EuropeNews 5 February 2012

Back in May 27th 2006, the now-defunct movement ”Voice for Europe” held a demonstration in Klosterneuburg, Wien, Austria, standing for European values and against reckless expansion of the European Union. The demonstration was held at an inofficial meeting for the EU foreign ministers, originally meant to revive the Constitution Treaty recently killed off by referenda in France and Netherlands.

Voice for Europe took the opportunity to hold the ministers reponsible for some other European Union mistakes, in particular moving forward with accession talks for Turkey in spite of the open Turkish refusal to fulfil several of the stated requirements for EU candidate countries.

The demonstration was preceded by a mailing campaign to the EU governments including this letter, a report by MEP Elmar Brok (backup here), a report by Alfred de Zayas (backup here), and a report by the Austrian Institute for European Security. Further, a Voice for Europe press release was issued.

Friends from the Czech Republic had organized to come by coach, and Hungarian friends had made a nice series of banner with the slogans of the demonstration, designed to provoke reflection among the EU politicians and some dialogue with journalists. Here with clarifications from our flyer handed out at the event:

  • Does Europe listen?
    The politicians are saying they will listen to the European people. We trust this to be an honest and sincere promise.
  • Define Europe’s borders!
  • Vertiefung vor Erweiterung (English translation: Deepening before widening)
  • EU enlargement: Priority for Europan values!
    While enlargement of the European Union is an important factor in creating reform and democracy, enlargement must not come at any cost, particular not at the expense of fundamental European values.
  • Turkey: Freedom of press or freedom to oppress?
    In Turkey, freedom of expression is not a given. Intimidation, court cases, and media closures are not compatible with free expression.
  • Solidarity with Cyprus – Turkey to Hague!
    Solidarity is a fundamental principle of the European Union. The behaviour of Turkey in Cyprus is in violation of several international laws and conventions, an issue for the international court in Hague.
  • Unless Turkey faces its past, it cannot join the future!
    Instead of permitting and encouraging free debate, any mention of unpleasant events in Turkey’s past is met with anger and repression.
  • Ukraine is democratic and secular. European, too.
    These are fundamental requirements for an EU candidate. Only countries who fulfil these with sincerity can join the European Union.

When doing an open air activity like a demonstration, there is always a bet on the weather. Heavy showers on the way out of Budapest had caused some concern, but at Klosterneuburg we merely had a trickle of rain while unpacking, then gentle sunshine and a light breeze during the day. Stnding with your friends in the wind for democracy and freedom does appear more attractive than being a minister, diplomat or other civil servant being brought by coach to yet another meeting!

In any case, everything was set up to greet the incoming ministers and journalists. Some staff members came out of Klosterneuburg quizzing us if our demonstration was for or against the European Union, as they couldn’t figure it out from our banners. That was not really our concern anyway, so we explained and handed over some documentation. Finally they were satisfied that we were not a group of radical EU opponents, but rather took concern in how the EU was managed, and went on with their business.

Soon the ministers approached in cars and coaches. Our demonstration was on a lawn right in front of Klosterneuburg, causing all incoming vehicles to slow down or stop right in front of our banners. There is little doubt that they were read by practically everyone who came in. Journalists were brought in by coaches as well, and we scrambled to get our flyers into their hands.

Some journalists, waiting for the meeting to produce something of interest, walked around chatting with us. In particular Jonny Dymond of the BBC took interest in our banners and slogans, and asked for an interview. Daniella explained to the camera about the importance of defining the limits of Europe, that the European citizens would have trust in management and enlargement of the Union.

Then, marching in strides past the banners came an entirely different person. He presented himself as Ambassador of Britain. While we were preparing to hand him the best of our documentation so he could read up on our issues, he had no interest in that. He just wanted our response to one question: ”Are you paid by the government of Cyprus?”. After a resounding ”No!”, he walked away as briskly as he came. Pondering his question, we figured that he was seeking a way to delegitimize our efforts, hoping he’d be able to expose us as paid agents of Cyprus, but he failed to get what he wanted.

Late in the afternoon the trinkle of journalists had dried up, and we decided to call it a day. We rolled up the banners and relaxed in a nearby café before heading off in our respective direction. The road back to Budapest was awash in heavy showers – looked like we dodged a bullet, weatherwise.

Political impact
When putting great effort and expenses in an activity like this, it is always exiting to see what comes out, and evaluate the impact. We followed the reports from the meeting and found that some of the ministers, in particular from Greece, had made statements in line with our slogans. One official voiced his concern that the ”Continuing pressure from anti-Turkey demonstrators” had the potential to disrupt the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to the Union. Certainly the demonstration had been noted.

We also watched BBC World to see if our interview was aired, but to our dismay found that the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Auschwitz was the news topic of the night. Perfectly reasonable yet vaguely disappointing. But the next evening on BBC World fared much better. An entire 15-minute special from Klosterneuburg had been composed, and was broadcast each hour the whole evening. Particular focus was given to the banner ”Solidarity with Cyprus – Turkey to Hague”, which the BBC staff had chosen to give extra exposure. Also the interview with Daniella was featured prominently – apparently Jonny Dymond had enjoyed encountering a straight citizen taking a stand on matters EU.

Then, on June 9th, news broke that Cyprus would block the Turkish accession negotiations, with the following reason:

Diplomats said Nicosia wants to see progress on Turkey ending its continued non-recognition of Cyprus and its blockade of Cypriot shipping and air traffic.

One might think that it makes no sense that Turkey refuses to formally recognize Cyprus, yet the European Union accepts to process a Turkish membership application. Yet it does make sense in a twisted sort of way. First, the European Union has a long standing tradition of being able to find a compromise in even the strangest situations, in cases even overruling international law by way of political compromises.

Second, Turkish recognition of the Republic of Cyprus as the constitutionally legitimate government in the island would logically lead to the Turkish occupation in the north being an open violation of the sovereignty of Cyprus. Thus, Turkey needs to persist in not recognizing Cyprus, de facto or de jure, in order to protect Turkish interests there.

European Council meeting June 2006
After the informal meeting of foreign ministers, it was time for a meeting of the EU top leadership, which followed three weeks later, on June 15-16. Comments transmitted from the meeting included ”There can be no discount on European values” and other hints towards Turkey to take the accession criteria seriously. From the concluding paper of the summit came these remarkable passages:

The Commission is invited to provide a special report on all relevant aspects pertaining to the Union’s absorption capacity, at the same time as it presents its annual progress reports on enlargement and the pre-accession process. This specific analysis should also cover the issue of present and future perception of enlargement by citizens and should take into account the need to explain the enlargement process adequately to the public within the Union.

At least they admitted that a public relations problems does exist. That’s not bad.

And specifically regarding Turkey:

Turkey is expected to share the values, objectives and the legal order set out in the treaties. The Union is committed to support Turkey in its efforts to comply with the Unions standards and membership obligations, including the Copenhagen criteria.

That would be ”No discount on European values!” translated into diplomat lingo.

The European Council recalls, in line with previous conclusions, that the current negotiations are based on each country’s own merits and that their pace will depend on each country’s progress in preparing for accession measured against the requirements set out in the Negotiating Framework. This includes the fulfilment of Turkey’s obligations under the Association Agreement and under its Additional Protocol.

That would be: ”No fudging with the reform process, and do recognize Cyprus!”, worded in diplomat lingo.

The European Council calls on Turkey to intensify the reform process and to implement it fully and effectively, so as to ensure its irreversibility and sustainability as well as to progress towards the complete fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria, including the commitment to good neighbourly relations.

That would be: ”No fudging with the Copenhagen Criteria, no bullying of neighbour countries”, expressed in the language of diplomats.

Was it worth the effort?
Fundamentally, there is no way to decide. We cannot tell what the European Council would have concluded without the demonstration and associated documentation, nor if Cyprus would have put their heels down without BBC World showing a banner demanding ”Solidarity with Cyprus”. There are reasons for that, including that the politicians and EU officials do not want to be drowned in citizen activism, but as a citizen it is also frustrating not to know if an activity was worth the effort.

In any case, the European Union has become preoccupied with other matters than Enlargement since 2006, in particular the financial crisis and the prevention of states defaulting on their debts. Turkish accession has not proceeded significantly since 2006, nor have the reforms within Turkey. A pretense of progress is being kept up, but negotiators just might be discreetly looking for a way out without losing face. That particular point, however, has great potential for a crisis during 2012.

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