Cengiz Aktar
Apr 18 2018

EU-Turkey: Closing the parenthesis

The European Commission this week revealed its 2018 enlargement report on enlargement that included Turkey, but only as a formality. Turkey is not even invited to a summit in Sofia on May 17 bringing together the leaders of the 28 EU member states and the other six candidate countries.

In recent years, reports of Turkey’s progress towards EU membership have become regress reports. This time however, the Commission, sure that Turkey would never become an EU member, has really lashed out.

The only progress highlighted in the report is in Turkey's migration and asylum policies. But the reason why is quite obvious; to keep intact the March 2016 refugee agreement in which Turkey agreed to impede refugees crossing into EU territory. Nevertheless, while Turkey welcomed Syrians who fled from the civil war, its migration and asylum policies lag far behind international standards.

Ankara has not done much to harmonise its legislation with that of the EU as it did between the years 2000 and 2007, but has regressed from the progress made during those years. Some topics that come to mind in this context are the rule of law, public procurement, the autonomy of the central bank, legislation steering labour relations and environmental legislation.

However, Commission reports, regrets, proposals, calls on these setbacks hold no value. Neither for itself, nor for Ankara. And, unfortunately, neither for the majority of the Turkish population!

Ankara does not care about the EU's principles, norms, and standards - they see these principles almost as an albatross around their neck. People hoping for something positive out of EU relations would do well to appreciate this. This is a paradigm shift. Commercial interests between the EU and Turkey go all the way up the ladder to the administration and down to its huge support base.  

As for the EU, there is no sense in such reports, recommendations, requests, warnings, and decisions taken by EU institutions. The EU has already thrown in the towel when it comes to Turkey. The connection between Turkey boils down to three things; commercial relations including juicy infrastructural bids, strategy (keeping Turkey in NATO), and tactics (the refugee agreement).

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker dared tell the European Parliament in October, 2015: "We can say that EU and the European institutions have outstanding issues with Turkey on human rights, press freedoms and so on. We can harp on about that, but where is that going to take us in our discussions with Turkey? We know there are shortcomings, but we need to involve Turkey in our initiatives." The EU, which at the time was grappling with the refugee crisis and was trying to cajole Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had to disregard its own progress report.

Although membership negotiations had already come to an end, Junker’s speech was a turning point. It was a sign that the future of the relationship between Turkey and the EU would be "project-based", as we can see with the refugee agreement.

The EU's other "Turkey interest" is trade. There has been a substantial increase in volume compared to 2016. Total trade rose from €144.68 billion in 2016 to €154.48 billion in 2017. The trade deficit has also increased from €11.37 billion to €14.99 billion in the EU’s favour.

Besides commercial, strategic, and tactical concerns there is no dialogue between Ankara and the EU, only two monologues.

In the critical phase that we find ourselves in, there are those on both sides who like to maintain the myth of "keeping the channels of communication open". Here, we need to note that actions behind keeping dialogue open have not really achieved anything. For instance, the last meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Commission between the European Parliament and the Turkish Parliament, in existence since 1963 to deepen dialogue, was held in Ankara in March, 2015! For years now, both sides have only repeated their individual stances on issues at bilateral meetings and they have not been engaged in any joint action.  

Let us look at the anti-terror cooperation that Ankara frequently mentions. There is really no meaningful cooperation outside of the European Islamic State fighters who are jailed in Turkey and on the parts of Syrian territory under Turkish occupation.

If we were to look at energy cooperation, which is a favourite topic of many in both sides, the Turkish regime cannot be considered a long-term and trustworthy partner given its willingness to work with Russia. Apart from Europe's financial support for an Azeri oil pipeline through Turkish territory (TANAP), fossil fuel deposits found in the eastern Mediterranean are of long-term strategic importance for Europe to weaken Russia's gas monopoly. And Turkey poses the most serious obstacle with its claims and threats in the eastern Mediterranean.

If we were to evaluate the trade, strategic and tactical bonds let us recall what Mehmet Şimşek, the deputy prime minister on his way out of the government, said in 2016: "If you agree or disagree with me, a Turkey which is detached from the European Union will be perceived as a third-world country ... In my visit to Japan, many questioned whether Turkey would become severed from the EU. ‘If so, we will not be in Turkey,’ they noted ... We need to continue our EU process for our interests."

As for the refugee agreement, which is a project-based deal, it could be gone tomorrow. No matter how much pressure there currently exists for immigration to the West from Turkey’s neighbourhood, this could not be contained only through Turkey’s much publicised “geographic location”.   

When it comes to NATO, the United States is the one who makes the final decision. As for the "Ankara problem" of European NATO allies, that will continue as long as the Turkish government remains in place.

For the EU, Turkey is like any other third country. And the famous "channels of communication" of the EU are open to all except North Korea!

For Ankara, the EU is an historic enemy and is a structure comparable to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Yet this state of affairs is no good for either Turkey or Europe. A Europe without Turkey would face a second threat in the form of an erratic Russia, another “problem country” not run according to democratic norms and the rule of law.

This also means that the future of a Turkey without Europe would be worse than today. It means that the body of knowledge that has been accumulated until now since the enlightenment era no longer resonates in Turkey. It means a break from the main dynamic that determines society as well as government, and intellectual life since the beginning of the 19th century. It means undoing all Westernisation patterns. In this sense this is a historical break.

Between the years 2000 and 2007, the endeavour to re-Europeanise through the EU process did Turkey considerable good. No matter what the fascist coalition running the country today and seeking revenge for the achievements of those years and the last two centuries’ pretends. What a waste!