EU leaders divided over Ankara strategy - analyst

Turkey’s trajectory of diminishing space for civil society, academic freedom, and human rights has left EU leaders divided over what strategy to pursue with Ankara, Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said.

Turkey’s relations with European nations have taken a turn for the worse over the last 18 months, the analyst wrote on Tuesday, pointing to a string of disagreements, including Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile systems, drilling for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean and military presence in Azerbaijan, Libya, and Syria.

The European Council is set to meet on March 25-26 and on the agenda is the EU’s relationship with Turkey against the backdrop of developments that are rubbing the bloc the wrong way.

EU governments "want a calmer, more predictable relationship with Ankara, be it for economic reasons (in the case of Germany, Italy, or Spain) or for fear of a new wave of refugees,’’ Pierini wrote, while Turkey has limited, if any "alternatives to dealing with Europe,’’ and no interest in a permanently hostile relationship with the bloc.

Turkey has vowed a number of reform packages, including one on human rights aimed at boosting the country’s democracy. The move is seen as an attempt by Ankara in improving relations with the EU, a change in direction that has been increasingly vocalised by the government in recent months.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to strengthen the rule of law and change election laws in a human rights action plan.

“Europeans have heard such promises before, but what is at stake is the credibility of such pledges, especially in the realm of the rule of law, since Turkey’s list of democratic failures is long and growing by the day,’’ the analyst said.

The spate of unresolved disputes with Ankara’s leadership, Pierini wrote, should prompt leaders to shelve summitry with Turkey and focus instead on resolving the main contentious issues between the sides.