Erdoğan seeks to turn the page on Turkish-EU relations in Europe Day letter

Turkey and the European Union must unite to face common hardships, such as combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent efforts for economic recovery, and fighting the refugee crisis and terrorism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.

“We must make good use of the opportunities that these tough days will present in order to revitalise Turkey-EU relations,” Erdoğan wrote in an open letter to the bloc, which celebrated Europe Day on Saturday.

Erdoğan pressed the prospect of Turkey’s full membership of the European Union, saying it would bring “a more participative and a more embracing vision” to the bloc, and turn it into “a global actor”.

Turkey’s EU membership has been a drawn out and contentious topic that has put the country and the European Union at loggerheads for years. Negotiations for full membership began in 2005, however Turkey has made slow progress towards meeting the accession criteria.

In a crackdown in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt July 2016 against Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, the European Union halted the process, citing serious concerns about Turkey’s human rights and rule of law.

In his letter, Erdoğan said Turkey could “set an example” for many EU member states and candidate countries with its healthcare system and “will render the EU nothing but stronger” by building on the country’s existing contributions on various fronts.

The letter was a radical change in the president’s general attitude towards the bloc, particularly its leading members, in recent years.

Turkish diplomatic relations with Germany and the Netherlands reached its lowest point in March 2017 when Erdoğan likened their top-level politicians to "Nazis". The remark was in response to German and Dutch officials cancelling planned AKP rallies intended to gather support from Turkish dual-citizens ahead of Turkey’s 2017 constitutional referendum.

In 2018, Erdoğan blasted French President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to mediate between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an armed coalition which Ankara sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“France lost its rights to complain about any terrorists or any terrorist attacks. Those who are together, who host [SDF figures] at their palace will come to this realisation sooner or later,” Erdoğan had said in reaction to Macron’s meeting with SDF representatives in Paris.

In late February, shortly after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in a Feb. 27 air strike in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, Erdoğan opened the Turkish side of its border with EU member Greece to refugees in Turkey, leading to tense confrontations with Greek security forces throughout March. Many perceived the president’s move as retaliation for the European Union’s lack of support for Turkish military operations in Idlib.

“I hope that the EU, which has assumed a discriminative and exclusionist attitude towards our country on various issues to this date, has now understood that we are all on the same boat,” Erdoğan said on Saturday.