Jul 17 2018

EU should not give up on Turkey - experts

Although Turkish prospects of joining the EU are lower than they have been at any time during the country's more than three-decade long accession process, the EU would be ill-advised to turn its back on the country, wrote Dimitar Bechev, a research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina and Nathalie Tocci, special adviser to European High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, on the Politico website.

Not only is Turkey an important partner in terms of Europe’s energy, security and trade, but its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, would likely be strengthened by European disengagement, the authors wrote.

Turkey also plays a critical role in helping Europe cope with migration related issues, thanks to a deal struck in 2016.

“Given this dependence and Turkey’s backsliding on democracy and human rights,” the authors said, “the temptation in many European capitals is to call off membership talks and settle for an ad hoc, à la carte relationship with Ankara. They should do no such thing.”

Were the EU to pull the plug on the Turkish membership bid, it would give Erdoğan the excuse to blame all his country’s ills on Europe.

“Far better,” wrote the authors, “to let Erdoğan to take this momentous decision (ending Turkey’s EU membership bid), and deal with its consequences domestically.”

Rather, they suggest the EU should consider upgrading Turkey's customs union arrangements with the bloc, as Ankara has long demanded. Such a move would not be tantamount to appeasement because, “a modernized customs union, and the rules attached to it, run contrary to how Erdoğan has been running Turkey’s economy. By refusing to negotiate a modernized customs union, European leaders are inadvertently providing Erdoğan with a boost.”

The EU should also, the authors suggest, “stand by those within Turkey who share its (democratic) values”. To do this, the EU could support Turkish academics and activists who flee the country and initiate a Turkish language news service to help counterbalance pro-government channels media domination.

Unsurprisingly, the authors acknowledge the EU has only limited leverage over Turkey, and whatever measures it takes are unlikely to have large or immediate effects.

“Turkey certainly won’t change overnight,” they wrote, “But this should not be used as an excuse for the EU to give up. Brussels should do its best to manage tensions, with an eye to playing the long game with Ankara.”