Apr 28 2019

Turkey-EU relations facing prolonged misery after polls  - analyst

Turkey’s March 31 local elections have further put a brake on Turkey’s stalled EU bid as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political survivability increasingly depends on support from his main ally, an ultra-nationalist party, wrote columnist Burat Bekdil for Israeli conservative think tank the Begin–Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center).

Turkey has not travelled very far over the last two decades, during which time the question of “How soon can Turkey become a full member?” has since been replaced with “Will it be Turkey or the EU that puts an official end to this opera buffa?” Bekdil wrote.

The European Parliament, in a non-binding assembly vote in March recommended to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey with 370 votes in favour, 109 against and 143 abstentions.

Brussels confirmed that accession talks were at a standstill and said that the “Turkish government’s stated commitment to EU accession needs to be matched by corresponding reforms,” in a EU press release after high-level talks with Turkey.

Among the reasons as to why Turkey does not qualify to become a member are ongoing human, civil, and due process rights violations; concern over Ankara’s lack of respect for minority religious and cultural rights; the state’s “shrinking space for civil society; its arrests and suppression of journalists and its dismissal of dissident academics.

It was the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who, in order to comply with EU legislation, abolished the death penalty in Turkey in 2004, the article recalled, noting that in the past few years he has declared he would approve it if parliament reinstated it. 

Despite his strong election campaign based on xenophobic, particularly anti-Western rhetoric, the local elections were an upset for Erdoğan, Bekdil wrote, as the AKP lost Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir, three of Turkey’s biggest cities, in addition to several other traditional strongholds.

Erdoğan’s AKP, together with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), won 52% of the nationwide vote on March 31 and if Turkey’s strongman comes under pressure to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections - scheduled for 2023 - he will desperately need the ultra-nationalist vote on his side, the article stressed.

During this time, Erdoğan will have to maintain, perhaps even up, his anti-Western rhetoric and stay away from any peace talks with Turkey’s Kurds, which is a genuine red line for the ultra-nationalist MHP, Bekdil said.

In 2018, Alparslan Kavaklıoğlu a member of Erdoğan’s AKP and head of the parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission, went on record as saying, “Europe will be Muslim. We will be effective there, Allah willing. I am sure of that.”

The EU and Turkey each have their own interest in endlessly prolonging this opera buffa, Bekdil wrote, adding however, “the audience is growing increasingly bored.’