‘New era’ in EU ties

‘New era’ in EU ties

It is rather difficult nowadays not to hear Turkey’s repeated pleas to European capitals to carry their troubled relations with the European Union to a “new phase.”

How sincere is Ankara in its passionate calls for better relations at a time when somewhat of a consensus emerges among European leaders to put aside Turkey’s accession and even the privileged partnership proposals by Germans, which angered Turks a few years ago, is no longer on the table?

Visa liberalization for Turks was within reach a while ago but apart from many other serious things, Turkey’s refusal to modernize its anti-terrorism legislation along the lines of the general practice in Europe has gone down the drain as well.

Turkey might indeed be right in complaining it was betrayed by its most important ally or was stabbed in the back by United States President Donald Trump’s administration in the White House. There have been ups and downs in Turkish-American relations, but the very roots of the ties between the two allies had not even been damaged this much when after the 1974 Cyprus intervention, the U.S. clamped an arms embargo on the Turks in 1975.

Many analysts underline Ankara was forced to remember the importance of its ties with the EU after the U.S. imposed trade restrictions, tariffs and political sanctions on two Turkish ministers. Worst of all, the U.S. unleashed a financial war against the value of the lira over Turkey’s refusal to terminate the house arrest and travel ban on evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who is accused of abetting terrorists and of espionage.

Yet, what would be the prospect of success of the U-turn Turkey apparently decided to take in its EU ties if the main stumbling block in relations has worsened over the past three years?

What might be the value of convening a “reform action group” in Ankara after three years, while prisons are filled with journalists, academics, intellectuals and former top civilian and military bureaucrats and people of all walks, who somehow dared to criticize the government or wrote messages critical of the government or the president on social media?

Or, what might be the significance of traveling to France, Holland or anywhere else in Europe, posing for photographers with European politicians and together, declaring readiness to face the worsening aggressive trade and political war the Trump administration has opened virtually against everyone?

The problem is not just the value of the lira or the euro against the dollar, the higher tariffs or Trump’s unilateral sanctions on Iran. The fundamental problem of the current political team in Ankara with the EU is the unfortunate fact that the two belong to different world perceptions as regards human rights and values, particularly the freedom of expression.

Is it not sad the Council of Europe has imposed monitoring on Turkey? The last time Turkey was under monitoring was in the 1980s, after the military coup. Before attempting to improve the climate in Turkish-EU ties, Turkey should perhaps well examine the many reports prepared by various European bodies, particularly the Venice Commission, against the awesome rights and freedoms situation in Turkey.

The freedom of speech, supremacy of law, separation of powers and such fundamental political criteria that constitute the backbone of European norms and values cannot be put aside by any European capital for the sake of “battling” or “opposing in alliance” the Trump aggression. Turkey and most other European capitals’ policy on Iran are very much similar. European capitals and Turkey almost have identical sensitivities on Syria.

What will happen in Idlib tomorrow if Americans unleash an aerial operation with the pretext the Syrian government used chemical weapons? The refugee deal with Turkey has stopped the influx of Syrian refugees for the past three years. What will happen if besides the almost four million at present, an additional 2-3 million Syrian refugees pour into Turkey because of an Idlib offensive by the Americans or the Syrian government?

Turkey and Europe have much in common but neither visa liberalization, nor a return to accession talks can be in the cards until Ankara takes a sufficient U-turn and starts improving its human rights record.

Yusuf Kanlı, European Union, Idlib