Britain and Turkey talking about the future of the EU?
In their joint press conference in Ankara on Oct. 18, Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik and U.K. Minister for EU Affairs Alan Duncan focused on the deal between Ankara and Brussels on migrants and visa flexibilities for Turkish citizens.
Çelik reiterated Turkey’s position, which had already been made clear by President Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. He said the deal would collapse if the EU does not bring into force the agreed visa liberalization for Turks by the end of 2016. The only way to save it would be to sit and talk again. Duncan, meanwhile, reiterated the U.K.’s position by underlining the importance of keeping relations between Turkey and the EU strong.
The irony is that Turkey wants to enter the EU, while the U.K. wants to leave it.
In any case, the U.K. was not part of the visa flexibility deal, which is supposed to be valid among the Schengen group of countries. Indeed, the EU Commission has made it crystal clear that since the Brexit vote they do not want London to interfere with EU affairs, especially those regarding the future of the EU.
Relations between Ankara and Brussels were not at their best even before Turkey’s failed July 15 military coup attempt. That was mainly due to concerns in the EU regarding President Tayyip Erdoğan’s target of shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system, Ankara’s relations with Moscow, and its policies in Syria and Iraq.
In the eyes of the Turkish government, the EU has not demonstrated the necessary solidarity since the coup attempt. In the eyes of the EU, meanwhile, developments since the coup attempt have put Turkey’s system of checks and balances and the rule of law further in jeopardy, further concentrating executive power in Erdoğan’s hands.
Relations between the EU and Turkey are certainly going through a kind of endurance test.
Given the rise of nationalistic and xenophobic feelings in EU countries triggered by the flow of refugees, mainly escaping the civil war in Syria, and given the rise of anti-EU feelings in Turkey over the perceived treatment Turkey has received, tension between Ankara and Brussels has started to turn into total indifference.
In this case, indifference is even worse than hate and enmity.
Turkey must remain within the European system - not only because of the quality of democracy in the country for the sake of its citizens, but also because of joint security and foreign policy concerns. Those concerns are not only limited to the influx of refugees, which might increase further with the escalation of clashes around Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
Both Brussels and Ankara should be extremely careful in keeping their relations going. The key test for that will be a continuation of the migrants/visa deal. If that deal can be salvaged things may not get much better, but if it fails things are likely to get worse.