Earlier this year, the E.U. reached a deal with Turkey to slow the flow of refugees. As a condition, the E.U. promised to allow Turks visa-free travel to Europe in exchange for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s promise to observe principles of democracy and human rights. So far the deal remains in place, but Erdogan says it can’t continue unless Europe keeps its promises on travel. The E.U. says the offer is valid only when Erdogan enacts changes.
Then came Turkey’s failed coup. Those outside Turkey who saw brave citizens face down tanks on live TV might think it represented a clear-cut win for democracy. There’s no denying that Erdogan’s party has a real mandate. But thousands have been arrested since the coup, and 2,745 judges have been removed. Erdogan looks to be settling scores with enemies both real and imagined. How will Europe respond?
Events in Turkey have exposed ugly truths about Europe. It’s harder to defend liberal democracy when multiple E.U. members refuse to accept small numbers of migrants according to a quota system set by majority vote of E.U. states. Or when xenophobic voices rise in liberal countries like France, Italy and Denmark.
Even in defense of liberal democracy, there is sometimes a case for compromise. But the next chapter of Turkey’s history–and Europe’s response–will tell us just how deep Europe’s leaders will bury their principles to avoid the next crisis.
This appears in the August 01, 2016 issue of TIME.
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