Judy Asks: Is Turkey Challenging Europe’s Freedom of Speech?
Ian Lesser - Vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels
Yes, but in a very ironic fashion. The recent war of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the leaders of Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands raises important questions about politicians’ ability to conduct transnational political campaigns and the right to use pointed language, however inflammatory.
The April 16 referendum on a new constitution that would introduce a presidential system in Turkey has been driven by nationalist rhetoric from the start. Erdoğan surely has an eye on his ability to take a confrontational stance with Europe to bolster his popular standing. Even Turkey’s leading opposition party has felt compelled to support him on this issue. Events to mobilize voters in the Turkish diaspora have little to do with promoting free speech and everything to do with gaining advantage with Turks at home and abroad in a referendum that could prove close.
Critical elections in Europe also encourage leaders to sound tough. But the current dispute is made far worse by the deeper, long-running crisis in relations between Ankara and the EU. Ironically, this is a crisis driven in large measure by Turkey’s accelerating slide away from European norms, especially on matters of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Stephen Szabo - Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy
The responses by Germany and the Netherlands to Turkey’s challenge are responses to threats to the liberal order in Europe, and European nations have to defend themselves from abuses of the freedom of speech by illiberal forces. Turkey’s current government has suppressed independent media and free speech at home and should not be offered access to those countries that take this freedom seriously.
Turkey is challenging not only Europe’s freedom of speech but also the right of sovereign nations to limit the use of their countries by foreign powers for their own—in this case, illiberal—purposes. The Turkish constitutional referendum on April 16 is highly divisive in Turkey itself, and the last thing European nations want is to be seen to favor one side in this crucial domestic issue for Turkey.