The EU and Turkey – long past the crossroads

It is high time policy makers in Berlin, Paris and Brussels start thinking about the partnership deal they would like to sign with Turkey. Erdogan’s Turkey has no place in the European Union but may as well be a strategic partner in the harsh political future that would require acrobatic moves by Brussels if it wants to stay relevant against an assertive Russia and dominant China.

By Ulas Doga Eralp

When one tries to understand and characterize the relations between the European Union and Turkey there is one fundamental question – is Turkey in Europe? There is a set of possible answers, one ranging from a discussion on compatibility of cultural and religious values and geographic location, to the state of democracy and human rights. Yet the most important discussion that needs to be had is about the future of relations between the two entities.

Will Turkey ever be a member of the European Union?

No. Turkey will not become a full member to the European Union. A large majority of the member states strongly oppose eventual Turkish membership on cultural, religious and political grounds. Ever since the signing of 1963 Association Agreement between the European Economic Community and Ankara, Turkey struggled to upgrade the status of its relations with Brussels. Over the course of 55 years, Turkey entered into a customs union in 1996, become a candidate country in 1999 and started accession negotiations in October 2005. Of the opened 16 chapters, only one has been closed so far, while the remaining 14 chapters had never been opened. Both Germany and France have been strongly opposing Turkey’s membership from the start. As the Eurozone crisis dragged on, Ankara also lost its appetite and started looking for alternatives for its future political orientation in Eurasian landscape and sought to build its relations with Russia and Iran even during the height of the Syrian civil war. Neither Ankara nor Brussels openly admits that Turkey will never become an EU member as the ambiguity of the process serves as a great cover-up for inaction and backsliding on both sides.

Will the accession negotiations between the two entities come to an end at one point?

Accession negotiations have not been moving an inch forward for almost a decade and have slowly been pushed to the sidelines of the political agenda between Ankara and Brussels. Visa free travel to Schengen countries seemed to be the lowest hanging fruit for Turkey as non-EU candidate countries such as Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have already been granted that privilege. Turkey has demanded enactment of visa free travel and 6 billion Euros in return for the refugee settlement agreement signed in March 2016, when Turkey promised to house up to 3 million Syrian refugees as their settlement procedures in European Union countries get processed. However almost three years after the signing of the deal Brussels have not yet granted visa free travel to Turkish citizens, citing slow progress in the visa liberalization dialogue – although Ankara had completed 66 of the 72 benchmarks identified in the roadmap. The main sticking point will be the negotiations over easing Ankara’s anti-terror regulations that are rather heavy-handed against President Erdogan’s opponents in Kurdish politicians, leftist intellectuals and so-called Gulenists who are alleged behind the failed coup attempt of July 2016. Even by some miracle Ankara fulfills its requirements and receives visa free travel, it’s unlikely that Ankara will refocus its efforts on accession negotiations.

How about the final destination?

The final destination of whatever remains of the accession negotiations will not be EU membership, that is almost certain. Brussels and Ankara will need to sit and have an honest conversation about the future of the relationship. The timing of that conversation will most probably happen some time toward the end of 2019 or early 2020 once Brussels finalizes the ugly divorce with London. A finalized Brexit opens new possibilities for the EU and suggests a new found determination to create a more robust political union with muscle. This new determination will enable Brussels to re-evaluate its relations with Ankara in the light of its weakening Transatlantic ties while recalibrating its relations with Eurasia in a realist fashion. Ankara will pivot itself as the interlocutor between EU and Russia/Iran/China political axis in the Near East and in Western Balkans. A strategic partnership of equals may be in the making.

Conclusion

It is high time policy makers in Berlin, Paris and Brussels start thinking about the partnership deal they would like to sign with Turkey. This will not be an easy decision as the Erdogan regime in Turkey systematically violates human rights, criminalizes democratic opposition, suffocates free speech in media and in academia with relentless suppression on ethnic and religious minorities. Erdogan’s Turkey has no place in the European Union but may as well be a strategic partner in the harsh political future that would require acrobatic moves by Brussels if it wants to stay relevant against an assertive Russia and dominant China.

Prof. Ulas Doga Eralp is a scholar-practitioner of international conflict resolution with 15 years of experience in international dialogue facilitation. His work focuses on social media and peace processes, cultures of violence, narrative mediation, collective memory, security and peace regimes, regional organizations, international mediation and democratization. Dr. Eralp has also been consulting various think-tanks and international organizations such as the World Bank, NED and the UNOPS. He has a number of articles and book chapters published on the Western Balkans, Middle East, Cyprus, European Union and Turkey. He is the author of ” Politics of the European Union in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Between Conflict and Democracy” (2012) that received a lot of attention from the policymakers in the EU and editor of “Turkey as a Mediator: Stories of Success and Failure “(2016), the first systematic study of Turkish mediation as an emerging power in global and regional conflicts.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.


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