Future of EU-Turkey relations uncertain, U.S. elections may play a role - expert

It is impossible to predict the future of relations between the European Union and Turkey, but Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy and the results of U.S. elections will be decisive, according to Turkish academic Senem Aydın Düzgit. 

“As the perspective of Turkey’s full membership to the EU has disappeared for the short-term due to Turkey’s own domestic dynamics, relations with the EU can only only continue in a few limited policy areas,” Aydın Düzgit, a professor of international relations at Sabancı University, said on Wednesday in an article for Perspektif,  an online website on Turkey’s international relations. 

Turkey’s customs union with the EU and a 2016 deal to curb a refugee inflow to Europe remain two main areas that shape the relations, but those limitations also increase vulnerabilities in ties as the EU postpones updating the customs union due to Turkey’s backsliding on human rights Aydın Düzgit said. Turkey is threatening to open its borders and let refugees flock into Europe whenever there are tensions on other issues, she said. 

As Turkey focuses on other policy issues, such as moves to exploit the potentially rich hydrocarbon reserves in the east Mediterranean, the institutionalised relations between Turkey and the bloc have been weakening, Aydın Düzgit said. Ankara is also shifting to prioritising bilateral ties with separate EU members, she said.

Europe may be pushed to make changes to its defence and security policies if U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected in elections in November, since Trump has reservations about the transatlantic alliance, particularly about NATO, she said. 

If the EU members attempt to establish a more autonomous and Europe-based institution outside the  NATO framework in the near future, Turkey might find itself further isolated from the West as long as it does not take steps to mend ties with the bloc, Aydın Düzgit said. 

“It is possible to expect both a positive change in relations with the EU and a decrease in tensions Turkey has with some member states, particularly with Germany, if Turkey returns to democracy and the rule of law,” she said.