Did French President Macron end Turkey’s EU membership dreams?

Did French President Macron end Turkey’s EU membership dreams?

Did French President Emmanuel Macron last week finally put an end to Turkey’s EU membership prospects, offering an alternative short of membership? The answer depends on which angle you look at it from.

For the eternal pessimists and those who think of themselves as “realists,” the accession process has already long been terminated (even if not officially). For the eternal optimists - seen by the other camp as wishful thinkers – it may not quite be so.

One thing is clear: Macron said in his opening statement that he would like to see Turkey “anchored” to Europe. The question is what type of “anchor” he was talking about?

In that opening, the French president said it was clear that “the recent evolutions and choices” made by Turkey “did not permit any further progress in the process” of accession. Then during the Q&A he referred to problems in terms of implementing the European Convention on Human Rights, saying “I would be lying if I were to say that we could open or close chapters in the coming years.”

Are we surprised? Not really. Both pessimists and optimists know that with so many journalists and academics in jail simply for expressing dissenting opinions, with the continuation of the state of emergency, and with governance by emergency decree laws – all of which distance Turkey from democracy, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental freedoms - it is not possible to continue the technical aspect of the accession process.

And it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not give any indication to Macron that there will be changes to reverse the democratic backpedaling any time soon.

Macron then spoke about what was ahead. He said a form of “cooperation entailing dialogue needs to be thought of and formulated in a contemporary framework, taking into account present-day realities and proposed in the coming months.” He also added that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has worked a lot on that.

Again in the Q&A, Macron said it would be a “win-win” for the European Commission and Turkey to have “a clear discussion on the list of subjects blocking accession talks” and to look at whether they can “rethink this relationship not in the framework of the integration process but in the framework of cooperation and partnership.”

Was he talking about an alternative relationship, not only in the short and medium term but also in the longer term? Would such a cooperation and partnership model replace the accession talks, effectively ending Ankara’s EU membership process?

That’s what most commentators seem to think. But there are two points that needs to be clarified.

The first is that the European Commission, to our knowledge, is not working on a scheme that will offer Turkey the option of giving up or ending the accession process in order to replace it with another form of relationship.

Secondly, Macron spoke repeatedly in Paris about keeping Turkey “anchored to Europe.” In the Q&A session he talked about a “relationship not within the framework of the integration process but within the framework of cooperation and partnership, with one finality: Keeping Turkey anchored to Europe and keeping it constructing its future in Europe and with Europe.”

Previously in his opening statement he had also said he wanted to see Turkey become a full party to the European Convention on Human Rights, as that convention is “part of its identity.”

But the fact is that if Ankara was to fully endorse and internalize the main tenets of the Convention, it would mean eliminating many of the barriers in front of the accession talks.

Perhaps Macron was using constructive ambiguity: While giving a clear message to European public opinion that continuation of Turkey’s membership process was not possible in the short and medium term, he left the door open to Turkey for the long run, provided it abides by European democratic standards.

Currently the ball is in Turkey’s court. In April, the Commission will decide whether Turkey fulfills the Copenhagen Criteria required to continue the accession talks. If Turkey does not take necessary steps to reverse the deterioration in its democratic standards, what is now on the table for the short and medium term could end up being offered also as a long-term alternative. And that would be certain to create another crisis between Turkey and the EU.

Barçın Yinanç, hdn, Opinion