Mar 26 2018

EU-Turkish relations could benefit from "charming" hypocrisy - Think tank

Turkey’s EU accession process may be dead in the water, but European states are keen to maintain a strategic partnership with Ankara and should change their approach to achieve this, said a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The report was published on Monday, 12 years after Turkey’s EU accession negotiations began, as Turkish and EU leaders set off to the Bulgarian city of Varna for talks around a variety of deep rifts that seriously damage Turkish hopes of joining the union.

Observers have expressed pessimism around the Varna summit’s potential to heal these rifts.

“At best,” Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, ECFR's analyst writes on the relationship in its current fractured state, “it is an exercise in hypocrisy that works for both sides. At worst, it is a dialogue of the deaf that will lead to a slow divorce.”

As the reports title, “The Discreet Charm of Hypocrisy,” suggests, many leaders in EU countries see value in preserving the status quo, and the “hypocrisy” this entails.

This is according to the findings of a new ECFR survey of European decision-makers, which found that,in spite of Turkey’s tarnished public image, and the corresponding opposition by EU citizens to the country’s accession, the majority of EU countries see Turkey “as a major strategic ally, an important (or potentially important) trading partner, and a power that should be kept close.”

Only one member state wishes to officially suspend Turkey’s accession bid, while 16 of 28 prefer to “keep it as it is.” 46 percent of the respondents said their government “supports Turkey becoming a member of the EU.”

These figures may include outward support from states such as Poland and Cyprus, which are able to profess their willingness for a Turkish entry, safe in the knowledge that this is currently unlikely to happen, said the ECFR report.

Conversely, Turkey can use this hypocrisy as the foundation for a “new model of cooperation with the EU, preserving the status quo in the accession process with the support of around 70 percent of EU decision-makers,” according to the report.

And while the prospect of accession is dim, and likely to remain so, EU member states still wish to keep Turkey close, primarily for reasons of “fear and greed.” This presents opportunities for cooperation that will benefit both sides, if the relationship can be restructured around a new model that is not based on enlargement, the report concluded.

Within that new framework, there is a lot that can be done to build momentum in Turkey’s relations with Europe. Modernising the existing customs union with the EU, deepening counter-terrorism and energy ties, developing human rights dialogue through the Council of Europe, and stabilising the Middle East are a few obvious areas of cooperation. Economic cooperation through transactional bilateral arrangements is another. The EU can still maintain ties to Ankara and Turkish civil society through existing enlargement channels. But enlargement cannot be the defining principle of Turkey’s relations with Europe at a time when Ankara has deviated from Copenhagen Criteria and an inward-looking Europe has little appetite for enlargement.