Turkey–EU Counterterrorism Dialogue: Different Perceptions, Different Priorities
On September 27, 2017, GMF organized a roundtable meeting in Brussels, as part of the GMF-TOBB Fellowship on Turkey, Europe and global issues, to discuss cooperation on counterterrorism between the EU and Turkey. Both European and Turkish experts projected enthusiasm for the deepening of this cooperation, but made it clear that currently EU-Turkey cooperation on terrorism is based on mutual distrust and necessity.
Counterterrorism cooperation between Turkey and the European Union is crucial. Both countries face similar threats from extremist groups and, despite troubled relations in other areas, must work together to address this situation in areas such as preventing and countering violent extremism, terrorism financing, and the links between organized crime and terrorism.
However, divergent perceptions on what defines terrorism remain a challenge.
Turkey sees the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL), and the Gülen Movement — officially defined by Turkey as Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) — as the main terrorist threats against itself.
Ankara considers the activities of the PKK in Europe a high priority issue for Turkey’s counterterrorism agenda. Turkey has demanded that Europe ban PKK activities and symbols, and wants to see an active effort against the PKK’s financial resources in Europe. Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the PKK. Subsequently, because the YPG is the main partner of the United States and the coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Turkey is accusing its NATO Allies of partnering with “terrorists.”
Moreover, Ankara believes that the Fetullah Gülen Movement was behind the failed coup attempt. In addition to demanding the extradition of Fetullah Gülen from the United States, Turkey has also demanded the extradition of many of its followers who fled Turkey and who are seeking asylum in Europe. The slow — to no — response on this demand is a major source of contention between Turkey and the EU. As a result of unfulfilled expectations from the EU regarding the PKK and the Gülen Movement, Ankara accuses the EU and member states of not helping Turkey in its fight against terrorism and even of harboring the PKK and FETO.
The European View
As a matter of fact, the EU does consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Germany for instance, which was called upon often by Turkey to increase its efforts against PKK supporters, extended its ban, including images of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and symbols affiliated with the YPG. But the EU institutions and member states continue to support civil initiatives in favor of a political solution to the PKK conflict.
EU assessments of the Gülen Movement, however, differ noticeably compared to Turkey. So far, EU member states and the United States do not share Turkey’s characterization of the movement as a terrorist organization, nor respond to Ankara’s demand to extradite Fetullah Gülen and his supporters to Turkey. Rather, dealing with the Gülen Movement seems to be perceived as a domestic Turkish issue.
Furthermore, Turkey’s counterterrorism policies and more specifically its anti-terrorism law is criticized by the EU for not being in line with international norms concerning human rights and EU standards. The EU sees the modification of Turkey’s anti-terrorism law, which has a very wide definition of terrorism, as a key element for reversing “Turkey’s democratic backslide” and a precondition for visa liberalization for Turkish citizens.
ISIS has lost a considerable amount of territory in Iraq and Syria. But even after the group is completely wiped out, the threat it poses will not disappear completely. Some of the survivors will try to go back to Turkey and the EU and continue threatening our societies. At this stage, deeper cooperation between the EU and Turkey, particularly in terms of intelligence sharing, will continue to be crucial.
However, unless there is a convergence between the EU and Turkey regarding terrorism, deeper cooperation against terrorism cannot be taken for granted. The EU and the EU member states need to be more active in their support to Turkey against the terrorist threats it faces if they expect full-hearted support from Turkey against the terrorist threats they are facing. On the other hand, unless Turkey reforms its anti-terrorism law to meet EU standards and strengthens rule of law, as far as the EU is concerned, Turkey's security-oriented approach to the Kurdish question will always remain a question mark in the fight against the PKK.
The continuation of the state of emergency, and the arrest and dismissal of many people who might not have any association with the failed coup attempt, will continue to be an obstacle in gaining EU support to Turkey in the struggle against the defined terrorist group FETO. Overcoming deadlock on anti-terrorism laws will help to remove the existing bottleneck in many crucial areas, such as terrorism, visa liberalization, and others.
 GMF-TOBB Fellowship on Turkey, Europe and global issues launched by GMF in cooperation with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB). The GMF-TOBB Fellowship aims to build up and expand resilient networks, contribute to sustained dialogue between Turkey, EU and other transatlantic partners, and develop policy recommendations for some of the most pressing issues on these areas. The GMF-TOBB Fellowship and its two pillars, high quality research and programming, will produce analysis as well as a high-profile public event on issues hereinabove.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.