I’ve just returned from Albania, where I was attending the Liberty Summit, organised by the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE). ACRE is the grouping of like-minded political parties across Europe, which sits alongside the ECR, the Tory-allied group in the EU – so when we leave the EU, we will leave the latter but remain an ACRE member.
It was a fascinating event – not least due to Albania’s history as the closest thing to North Korea that Europe has so far produced, but also because of the range of attendees. There were veteran dissidents like Uran Kostreci, the Albanian poet who spent 20 years in some of Enver Hoxha’s most brutal jails, and Andrzej Gwiazda, who played a central role in establishing anti-communist opposition in the Gdansk shipyards, laying the ground for the later emergence of the Solidarnosc movement. There were also representatives of the Conservatives’ many allied parties – among those I met were MPs and activists from Poland, Finland, Germany, Italy and Slovakia (indeed the Summit saw ACRE welcome three new member parties, from Albania, Belarus and Northern Cyprus).
Also in attendance, however, were the AK Party – the Turkish governing party whose leader, President Erdogan, has of course been pursuing a series of repressive measures both before and after that country’s failed coup last year. I reported last July that ACRE was already investigating whether the AKP was a suitable member, and had dispatched a fact-finding mission to Turkey to see whether the party could reasonably be judged to be consistent with the Alliance’s founding principles. If not, then they faced suspension.
The outcome of that fact-finding mission has not been published in full, but an ACRE statement from earlier this year confirms various concerns in the Alliance about Erdogan’s behaviour:
‘We deplore the violent coup attempt of 2016. We also appreciate the enormous burden placed on Turkey by the Syrian war and refugee crisis – a burden they have shouldered cheerfully and uncomplainingly. An unstable environment, however, is not a justification for weakening democratic norms, abandoning political pluralism or moving toward a more authoritarian style of government…
The ACRE Council notes with concern the continuing developments in Turkey. ACRE understands that an attempted coup d’état can lead to measures that would not be contemplated in normal times. None the less, a coup cannot justify a permanent shift in the balance of power, nor a continuing State of Emergency, nor a purge of officials who were uninvolved, nor the mistreatment of detainees.
Similarly, we accept the need for some reforms of the 1980 constitution, and recognize that it is for the Turkish electorate to determine its own constitutional arrangements. But we stress that the supremacy of national parliaments is part of the Reykjavík Declaration, and oppose any shift in power that would lead to a less pluralist or more autocratic form of regime.’
Since then, ACRE has voted on the status of the AKP and, as you can guess by the presence of the party’s representatives in Albania this weekend, it voted not to suspend or expel Erdogan and his colleagues. It certainly wasn’t a unanimous decision – people from various nations expressed their deep unhappiness about it to me in the last couple of days – but I gather it was supported by all those ACRE member parties who are in Government, who are also the largest parties in the Alliance. That includes the PiS in Poland, the Finns Party and the British Conservatives.
That’s a controversial decision, which was made in Westminster – meaning that not only do British Conservatives remain allied to Erdogan, but the Conservative Party’s leadership has explicitly backed continuing that alliance. I’m told that Daniel Hannan remained neutral in the process, in his capacity as ACRE Secretary-General, but the official position of the Conservative Party’s leadership and ACRE delegation is clearly that the alliance with the AKP should continue.
The prime justification for that continuation appears to be on security grounds, particularly given that Turkey is often European extremists’ chosen route to attempt to join ISIS. The merits of that case are likely to be classified, so are rather hard to judge (but will be visible to those governing parties who supported the AKP’s continuing membership).
What is public knowledge, however, is Erdogan’s record in using the continued State of Emergency to purge officials, clamp down on critical media and attack the judiciary in Turkey. As I wrote back in July, that record seems completely at odds with ACRE’s founding principles, and the statement above implies that ACRE has similar concerns. After the vote, the organisation simply says the relationship remains “under review” – though quite what more Erdogan would have to do to get kicked out is a mystery.