Will Turkey and the EU give each other one more chance?
For sure, Turkey and the European Union are at a critical turning point in their decades-long relationship. The key question here is: Will they give each other one more chance to improve their bilateral ties? Or will they cut their ties?
The planned update of the Customs Union deal will play a significant role in this tough period, as has been shown by Berlin’s recent reactions to Ankara.
Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not think it was appropriate to carry out further discussions with Ankara about the Customs Union. She toned up her warnings, and on Sept. 5, Merkel said she would bring the issue of Turkey’s accession negotiations to the European Council in October, with a demand to either suspend or end them.
In the last couple of years, Turkey and the European Union have failed on how to maintain dialogue with each other. Of course, Turkey’s worsening human rights record, mounting restrictions of fundamental freedoms and escalating populist discourse amid a long election cycle had a key impact over this period; but on the other side of the coin, it can barely be said the EU showed a sincere effort to understand what is really going on within the country. Both sides must reflect on these deficiencies in an open and objective manner.
When political or diplomatic dialogue fades out, improving economic relations may temporarily work to be able to grasp each other’s stance by using them as a trump card, if necessary, and to enjoy the benefits of the peace dividend.
I am not talking about the supremacy of “money” over anything. When the signature of a Customs Union deal between Turkey and the EU first appeared, there were many skeptics who claimed this would bring nothing but loss to each other. However, what has happened since the clinching of the deal in the mid-1990s says the opposite.
Turkey has become the EU’s fifth main trading partner globally, representing 4 percent of the EU’s total foreign trade, with a value of bilateral trade in goods having increased more than fourfold since 1996 and currently amounting to 140 billion euros, with an EU positive balance.
For Turkey, the EU is the most important trading partner, representing over 41 percent of Turkey’s global trade.
Moreover, two-thirds of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Turkey currently originates in the EU.
Most importantly, a number of key steps were taken by Turkey on the road to further democratization, mostly until 2010.
The EU also became the main investment destination for Turkish companies. Only in 2012, there were almost 150,000 Turkish entrepreneurs operating in the European Union, employing over 600,000 workers.
Both sides, more or less, learned how to cope with each other in those years by building stronger economic and trade relations, although they are now facing difficulties recently in achieving this.
The start of negotiations for the update of the Customs Union deal may again create a constructive platform to achieve this. However, if the opposite step is taken, this will only marginalize Turkey and generate further regional instability and volatility.