Turkey does not need the EU: Really?

Turkey does not need the EU: Really?

One of the immediate consequences of the ongoing row with the United States—which has an immense economic impact on the Turkish economy—was a 180-degree and pragmatic turn of Turkey towards the European Union and prominent European countries.

One can read dozens of opinions and columns as well interviews in pro-government media explaining why Turkey and the EU should cooperate against U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive economic and political oppression.

While appraising German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and senior EU officials over their support to Turkey in its feud with the Trump administration, they also herald upcoming meetings of senior Turkish officials with their European counterparts to discuss intensifying their economic partnership.

They often report about the importance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Berlin late September and Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak’s trips to France and Germany in the coming weeks.

These analysts, columnists and members of think tanks cite providing the Schengen visa waiver for the Turkish nationals and upgrading the Customs Union as areas on which Ankara and Brussels can agree, in a bid to enhance ongoing bilateral cooperation. Senior government officials are also of the same opinion (although they do not explain how all these will be granted without major amendments on Turkey’s downgraded democratic standards.)

However, it is the responsibility and duty of an objective journalist to catch attention on inconsistencies in making and running foreign policy because this inconsistency and narrow-mindedness, particularly on foreign policy, can cause enormous damage on national interests as we observe today.

Let’s first briefly recall the statements of prominent Turkish officials on ties with the EU in 2016 and 2017. “The European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted as saying in April 2016, a month after Ankara and Brussels inked a comprehensive deal on Syrian refugees. This line had become Erdoğan’s and therefore his government’s and pro-government’s media’s motto throughout 2016.

As relations have worsened in 2017, Erdoğan’s line towards the EU has harshened. “We do not need the EU,” the president said a number of times as a strong-worded reaction against the EU, at the same time stressing it would not quit accession talks. That followed scores of analysis on how the EU entered into an era of collapse with statements from senior government officials that forecast “a needy EU to knock on the doors of Turkey.”

There is no need in telling that all these anti-EU campaigns were a part of pre-election strategy that helped Erdoğan consolidate his conservative-nationalist grassroots for both the 2017 referendum and twin polls in 2018, at the expense of giving a huge damage on Turkey’s accession process as well as on its bilateral ties with European heavyweights.

Turkey’s human rights track record has worsened in the last two years and has often faced criticisms that it is no longer a liberal democracy, which has seriously impacted the status and nature of its ties with Brussels. Turkey’s accession process has been officially suspended with Council decisions that stipulates no chapters to be opened and no green light for an upgraded Customs Union either.

Let’s quote the EU Council’s decision taken in late June 2018 on Turkey: “The Council notes that Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union. Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen.”

This means, the consent of 29 member countries is needed to revive accession talks and to work for upgrading the Customs Union.
On the contrary, what many foreign policy advisors and pro-government columnists argue is it will not be an easy task for a genuine re-start with the EU unless the government reverses its undemocratic downgrade.

Furthermore, recent warm messages from France and Germany towards Turkey should not be misunderstood. They simply say they do not want a de-stabilized Turkish economy because it can hit European stability. The support given to Turkey can only be comprehensive and genuine if the Turkish government is ready to upgrade its democracy along with its economy.

Those who run this country and those who advise them had better adopt a longer-term vision in international ties to avoid archaic undiplomatic trends such as “yesterday’s enemy, today’s friend” or “today’s friend, tomorrow’s enemy.”

Turkey, European Union, Politics