EU is strategically blind in dealings with Turkey – analyst

The European Union has suffered from strategic blindness in its relations with Turkey, as its measures have not led to any change in attitude by the Turkish government, but rather helps deepen mutual grievances, analyst Sinan Ülgen wrote on Bloomberg. 

Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU have stalled, the pre-accession financial assistance Turkey receives has been substantially reduced, and the bloc last week announced punitive measures against the country over its dispute on gas resources off Cyprus. 

Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, avoided any mention of Turkey during her confirmation hearing at the European Parliament last week. The omission is testimony to the current dilemma facing EU policy makers, said Ülgen, the executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

In the current state of affairs, European politicians steer away from commenting on relations with Turkey and as a result “mutual reactionism” determines ties, the analyst said. 

The EU’s “last set of measures is a good illustration of Brussels’ strategic blindness”, said Ülgen. 

The bloc is to freeze 146 million euros of pre-accession assistance for Turkey for next year, suspend negotiations for an aviation agreement, review sources provided by the European Investment Bank to Turkey, and put on hold any high-level meetings with Turkish officials.

Ülgen said of the measures: “They do just enough to please domestic constituents, the member states, but not enough to compel the desired behaviour change in Ankara. As a result, the measures will only help to enrich the list of mutual grievances with no impact on policy.” 

Under Von der Leyen’s leadership, the European Commission should design a smart engagement policy, Ülgen said. The accession framework should remain in place to pre-empt another round of toxic and inconclusive deliberations, while Turkey’s customs union with the EU should be upgraded and the EU should reach out to the Turkish society with initiatives to ease mobility and access to Community programmes or at least implement a programme of visa waivers for groups of Turkish citizens such as journalists, artists, students and business people, the analyst said.