The EU will adopt a wait-and-see stance on Turkey
Turkey has left the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections behind with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clinching his rule for another five years, however, with more powers under the new government system.
It should be noted that Erdoğan’s win in the first round and the fact that his ally, the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) secured 11 percent of votes was surprising for many diplomats in Ankara. They believed that Erdoğan would be elected in the second round but lose the parliamentary majority.
Anyway, elections are over and the picture is clear. Erdoğan will run the country and the People’s Alliance has a comfortable majority in the parliament. This is the reality on which foreign diplomats are making their assessments and forecasts over the Turkish foreign policy in the new era, particularly on ties between Turkey and the European Union.
The EU’s first reaction to the election results was given by EU’s foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn on June 25. The statement did not refer to election results and did not include any congratulatory remarks for Erdoğan.
Instead, it cited the OSCE election observing mission’s initial assessment on the June 24 polls that highlights restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and expression, including in the media, under the ongoing state of emergency.
It also suggested Turkey “would benefit from urgently addressing key shortcomings regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights” and warned the new presidential system has “far reaching implications for Turkish democracy.”
It is no secret the EU finds Turkey’s new presidential system undemocratic and expresses concerns that it would lead to a one-man regime in the country. That is why neither Brussels nor prominent European countries evaluate this new era in Turkey as the beginning of a new chapter in ties with Ankara.
The EU leaders will meet over a summit this week in Brussels from where the first strong messages would come from the future of ties with Turkey and the halted accession process. Austria, preparing to resume the EU term presidency on July 1 until the end of 2018, is pressing hard EU members to formally end negotiations with Turkey. It is true that Turkey has fewer advocates in Brussels but, still, giving a formal end to talks needs unanimity.
The EU will likely adopt a wait-and-see stance on Turkey in the coming months to see what actions the next government will take on correcting democratic deficiencies. Erdoğan’s earlier statement that the state of emergency will not be extended has been regarded as a positive message but, for many European diplomats, it should be supported with concrete actions, like releasing arrested dissidents and broadening freedoms.
The EU believes it was Turkey that moved away from them and hence, Turkey should be the one to take the first step for a potential reconciliation in ties. Otherwise, the accession process is unlikely to be resumed as negotiation chapters are “deeply frozen.”
Therefore, the EU thinks the ball is in Turkey’s court if it wants to re-launch an accession process and that can only be done through a concretized democratic reform agenda. The second factor is about Ankara’s bilateral ties with prominent EU countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Greece and Austria. The reconciliation of Turkey’s relationship with these mentioned countries would be helpful in its efforts for the resumption of the accession process. The actions to be taken regarding these two factors would also improve ongoing talks on visa liberalization and upgrading the Customs Union.
Having said all this, it is too early to foresee to what extent warming ties with the EU and engaging in accession talks will occupy the priority in the next government’s foreign policy agenda.