HAMBURG - For 10 years, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan built his reputation as a moderate, successful, even exemplary levelheaded Islamist democrat. During his leadership the economy flourished, domestic political stability settled in after a period of shaky coalitions, and the army was put on a leash. When the Arab Spring uprisings began, Turkey's democracy seemed like a shining beacon for the people taking to the streets in the Arab world's crisis crescent.
Those days are over. The economy is stuck in a deep crisis. Share prices and the Turkish lira have slumped. And the AKP, Erdogan's party, has been caught up in a serious corruption scandal. The accused include the sons of three AKP ministers and Erdogan's own son Bilal. Investigators have uncovered millions of dollars stuffed into shoe boxes, money transfers to Iran and construction permits in return for large bribes.
As the crisis has unfolded, Erdogan himself has become more and more autocratic, trying to sweep aside everything standing in his way. Last summer, his security forces launched a bloody crackdown on the protests in and around Gezi Park. Since mid-December, he has ruthlessly pursued all those who would drain the swamp of corruption. Hundreds of police officers, dozens of prosecutors and judges have been fired or transferred because they refused to halt their probes, which had reached the prime minister's inner circle. To put an end to corruption rumors circulating online, Erdogan's government recently blocked access to Twitter and YouTube in Turkey.
Meanwhile, a bitter feud between Erdogan and his ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gülen, has shaken Turkey's political scene. The prime minister rails against the imam, who lives in U.S. exile. He sees enemies and conspirators everywhere.
Turkey's municipal elections held in late March were ultimately about whether the country's awakening civil society or conservatism would prevail. The outcome -- 45 percent for the AKP, 38 percent for the opposition -- demonstrates that Erdogan's power base has not crumbled. Now it's completely up to him whether to run for the presidency in the summer or to disregard the term limits he himself instigated and seek a fourth term as premier.
For 30 years, I have advocated accepting Turkey into the European Union, once the country has fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria: institutional stability as a guarantee of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and minority rights, a functioning market economy, and finally the pledge to embrace the goals of the political, economic and monetary union.
If Erdogan continues as he has over the past two years, he will not fulfill these criteria. There is no place in the European Union for this Turkey.
The conduct of Turkey -- a NATO member -- in the Syria crisis is also worrying. A leaked audio recording that has gone viral online reveals Turkey's foreign minister, intelligence chief and deputy chief of staff discussing intervening militarily in Syria after staging a fake attack made to look as if it had been committed by Syrians.
The leaders in Ankara need to be clear that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO-wide action only if a member state is actually attacked. If the Turkish government feels like playing with fire on the sidelines of the Syrian civil war, it can do so without expecting NATO assistance. And Germany should promptly withdraw its Patriot missile batteries that are guarding Turkey's frontier with Syria.
This article appeared in © The German Weekly on April 4, 2014.