French President Macron should do his homework for Erdoğan visit
Bulgaria, which on Jan. 1 took over as the EU’s term president, did not list any plans relating to Turkey in its six-month program, according to a report in daily Hürriyet.
“Let’s leave behind the hypocrisy about Turkey’s EU membership process. The best thing to do is to sit down and make a special deal between Turkey and the EU,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov reportedly said in the last days of 2017.
It seems that this move has not irritated Ankara too much. There has been no official reaction and Borisov’s planned visit to Turkey next week will continue as planned. That visit includes the inauguration of a restored historic iron church in Istanbul alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“The term presidencies of EU member countries are not as important as they used to be,” one Turkish official recently told me. At any rate, Turkey–EU relations are currently in such a comatose state that only a kiss of life from a key EU member can resuscitate the patient (just like only their kiss of death can terminate its life.)
In April the European Commission will issue a report on Turkey discussing whether it is still abiding by the Copenhagen Criteria. According to that report, member countries will decide on whether a kiss of life or death will be delivered.
In the coming period Turkey has indicated that it wants to warm ties with Europe. There have been noises about “normalization” with Germany and the Netherlands and there have also been signals from the government about reviving the visa liberalization process.
Relevant ministers have reportedly agreed on a package purporting to fulfil the remaining criteria presented by the EU to secure visa liberalization, including an amendment to the law on terror. But for reasons unknown to those who want to see the process accelerated, the package seems to have not yet made it to the presidential palace for approval. Could this be because cabinet members are afraid of getting an angry refusal from Erdoğan? Is it because they see no intention from the president of lifting the state of emergency, thus keeping heavy-handed security measures intact?
If that is the case, what has prompted Turkish officials to recently make statements signaling a willingness to improve relations with the EU? Do they want to see just a little progress in relations with the EU without taking necessary steps to stop democratic backpedaling?
This will be up to French President Emmanuel Macron to find out, as he will be hosting Erdoğan in Paris in the coming days. Macron has taken upon himself the task of ensuring that dialogue between the EU and Turkey is maintained, capitalizing on his good relations with Erdoğan at a time when other European leaders have had problems with the Turkish president (to say the least).
One should give credit to Macron for not minding the potential criticism he will face from domestic public opinion for hosting Erdoğan, who is very unpopular in Europe these days. But there is no such thing as a free lunch (which I assume he will be offering Erdoğan), and Macron no doubt wants to portray himself as a troubleshooter in foreign affairs. Turkey’s relations with Europe certainly fall into this “troubled” category.
But if Macron really wants to have an impact he needs to do his homework before Erdoğan’s visit.
When he talks about the need to lift the state of emergency in Turkey, he must be ready with a valid response when his interlocutor says “Yes, but France also had a state of emergency.” When mentioning the issue of journalists behind the bars, Macron needs to provide a solid counter argument when Erdoğan says “they are not behind the bars because of their journalistic activities.” He needs to have a convincing response upon being told that the state of emergency “has no impact on the daily lives of ordinary citizens in Turkey.”
But above all he needs to get across the message that Turkey’s disproportionate security measures taken against enemies of the state like the Gülenists are not actually strengthening the fight against them. On the contrary, they are damaging this fight as they only damage Turkey’s relations with the democratic world.
Otherwise, raising issues of concern just for the sake of it - without achieving a genuine understanding on what needs to be done to alleviate those concerns to revive Turkey–EU ties - will only turn Macron’s talks with Erdoğan into a dialogue of the deaf