EU requires pragmatic, wise response to Turkey paradox

EU requires pragmatic, wise response to Turkey paradox

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EU requires pragmatic, wise response to Turkey paradox EU sanctions on Turkey would open deepen the country’s problems instead of encouraging democracy, the secretary-general of the Turkish Industry and Business Foundation (TÜSİAD) has said, noting that the bloc must wisely and pragmatically manage this paradox.

“Acting negatively will further deepen the problems, and it won’t be a solution. There won’t be fewer cases of human rights violations or democratic concerns in Turkey,” Bahadır Kaleağası said.

Tell us, where are Turkish-EU relations heading?

There are two observations: one is that Turkish-EU relations are victims of homemade problems both in Turkey and the European Union. The second: so many things are changing with globalization, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and digital that within a few years, the main parameters of EU-Turkey relations will have changed as well.

It is amazing to see; both sides got a test result in the laboratory of history that was so positive for both sides. Why, despite this test result, did they try another recipe?

Let me explain: Between 1995 and 2005, both sides tested a policy of convergence. When the customs union was approved, there was the death penalty in Turkey; there were prisoners of opinion, Kurdish MPs were in jail and there were significant cases of torture. But the customs union added value for both sides economically, but it was also a leverage for democracy and human rights. 

Conditionality worked well; Turkey became a candidate in 1999. This was a great historical success in transforming Turkey into a convergence of interest between the EU and Turkish citizens. Turkey was engaged in the sphere of influence of the EU and this was defined by democracy, economy, security, energy and so on.
The following decade was another test with the reverse formula; the win-win equation transformed into a lose-lose one.

Whereas it could have been a triple win with the positive effects on our region, the last 10 years was a triple-lose [situation], as the region lost too. The world also lost. This was one of the most successful phases of European integration, [as the EU] exported its core values and economic development and social progress system to the world outside its traditional core.

Engaging Turkey provided tangible results; it became a better democracy.

It was good for both parties. However, by 2005, because of Cyprus and Turkey’s own internal political hurdles, this equation became broken.

Who is to blame?

Cyprus became a member and started to block Turkey’s accession process. And of course today there are problems of democracy and rule of law in Turkey. The EU is rightly critical about them and the EU has a tool to exercise pressure on Turkey: the negotiation chapters. How come the EU converted its policy tool – the opening of chapters – into something that is a gift offered to the candidate country? Opening a chapter is to transform a country according to EU values and interests. 

I can understand closing chapters, but opening a chapter shouldn’t be seen as a precondition or a gift. 
Also because of the Cyprus veto, the EU downgraded its power to the detriment of its own values and interests. So it is really interesting to be part of history where some kind of methodological mistakes are being repeated.

How are we going to move forward then?

When you see the current debate in both the European Parliament and European capitals, some people put forward a policy that was part of the problem. A policy that was part of the problem cannot be part of the solution. The policy of not engaging Turkey in the European process in the last 10 years has been part of the problem, so how can it be a tool for a solution? The EU’s policy of weakening relations with Turkey has contributed to the current problem, so the further alienation of Turkey cannot be a policy tool for a solution.

Some in Europe are asking whether Turkey is still interested in the EU.

We don’t know whether Turkey is changing or Europe is changing.

The president is talking about a referendum on Turkey’s ties with the EU.

I think that it is too [early] to talk about a referendum; the major elements of public debate are not yet there. It would not be reasonable or relevant to raise a question given that the major elements are still evolving.

But many are asking whether the president or the government still values the EU.

I don’t know if there is an absolute strategic reorientation or a tactical maneuver, but I know that it is in the absolute national interest for Turkey to remain in the EU process, and it is a matter of competitiveness for the EU to keep Turkey in the process.

Anything less than this is against the interests of both the EU and Turkish citizens.

Some would argue that Turkey no longer fulfills the criteria to remain a candidate.

That’s a legitimate question, but in the good European tradition of rational thinking, that is only one element that is being taken into account … Another element to take into account is the mea culpa.

The European Commission warned the European Council in 2006 that those chapters related to democracy should be opened to enhance the achievements of the candidate country. Since then, the EU did nothing to exercise pressure on this. In addition, it pulled out its conditionality and influence from the equation that was working well.

But how do you think the EU should proceed? 

It is a paradox to manage. We have to realistically accept the paradox and manage it with wisdom and pragmatism. The paradox is that the problems are there but acting negatively will further deepen the problems, and it won’t be a solution. There won’t be fewer cases of human rights violations or democratic concerns in Turkey.

Sanctions won’t make Turkey more democratic?

No. Economic sanctions, for instance, would hurt the Turkish economy, but they would hurt the dynamic parts of the Turkish economy that are the only hope to transform Turkey again into a country in alliance with EU values.

Nothing can hurt Turkey without hurting the EU. There is so much fusion that it can’t start treating Turkey as a third external country. It is too late.

How should the EU move?

In the worst case scenario if Turkey itself decides to pull out of the process or introduces death penalty, for instance, the EU has to do nothing.

An official suspension should not be introduced, because that would be irreversible. Nothing should be done further than effectively freezing negotiations; the EU should not destroy the remnants of the relationship to the detriment of the future generations of economic actors. We should not leave a corpse to the near future.

An official suspension would deprive any hope that, in the event of a sudden change of the situation, there could be a rapid reaction to seize the opportunity to promote the forces of change in the right direction. It is a tool to keep frozen to be reactivated. If there is an official suspension, it would take months to revive it. 

But some would argue that a transactional relation would work just as well.

Turkey’s own strength comes from democracy and the rule of law. If Turkey is unable to pursue development in these fields, it cannot be a country of economic development and social progress.

If Turkey is not part of this system in this region, it will not stay in the orbit. To keep Turkey in the EU orbit, you need the conditionality of European integration.

For economic actors to invest and for people to flourish with technological, scientific, cultural and academic creativity, you need democracy and freedoms.

Without the EU’s conditionality, a country like Turkey will not stay in that orbit. How do we know that? We tested it in the laboratory of history. We know that with the EU, among others, we have an equation that works. When we take out the EU factor from that equation, it is in trouble. 

According to a second scenario, Turkey will not pull out but won’t be able to solve its current problems either, while the EU has its own domestic problems. But pragmatic wisdom would still suggest that it should not officially suspend the talks but keep it frozen like today. But it is important to focus on some areas of cooperation and partnership in a functionalist approach; where it is possible to make progress, let’s make progress without giving up the ideal of further integration. Let’s focus on the modernization of the customs union without giving up conditionality, because the customs union requires the rule of law. 

Let’s modernize including the dimension of the single digital market. We currently have industry; let’s add services and agriculture, but all that exercise has to belong to the digital revolution that we find ourselves in. Also, let’s include public procurement and conflict-resolution mechanisms. 

It would be a working algorithm of the 1990s being reloaded with a 21st version.

And then let’s cooperate in the area of energy. 

The third area is security, with all its sub-chapters: the fight against terrorism, organized crime, the management of the refugee crisis and Turkish citizens traveling to EU countries. All this is about better integrating Turkey into the EU system of internal security. This is not about free movement. That is misleading. 

And the fourth area of cooperation would be foreign policy.  

So leave aside the accession process for the moment and focus on tangible areas of progress?
How to justify leaving aside the process is clear.

Turkish democracy is currently going through a troubled time; we need to wait for Turkish democracy to stabilize and see more clearly regarding Turkey’s future over the next five years. 

We need another cycle while reloading the new algorithm.

And the EU is moving toward flexible integration. We will probably see a multi-speed and multi-circle Europe with flexible degree of integration. 

The world is changing fast and in that transformation, we could have different paradigms on Turkish-EU relations. This is where the wisdom comes in.

Do you see that wisdom?

They are in trouble with collective thinking in understanding this paradox. That is why there is no collective action or capacity to manage this paradox.

We see the wisdom in both parties but also see a lack thereof. We will see which side overcomes the other.

Who is Bahadır Kaleağası?


EU requires pragmatic, wise response to Turkey paradox

Dr. Bahadır Kaleağası is the secretary-general of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSIAD) and president of the Paris Bosphorus Institute. He is also honorary chairman of the Brussels Energy Club, a member of BusiessEurope’s Executive Bureau (The Confederation of European Business) in Brussels. 

A graduate of Brussels and Istanbul Universities, Kaleağası has been a researcher and lecturer in the Center for International & Strategic Studies and the Institute for European Studies of the University of Brussels, a rapporteur for European Commission Forward Studies Unit projects as well as intergovernmental conferences that prepared the Maastricht Treaty, and was a visiting researcher at Harvard, Georgetown and Jerusalem universities. 

Kaleağası also served as a counselor for various public and private institutions before joining TÜSİAD in 1995, as well as the EU representative in Brussels.

His books published in Turkish include “Turkish Star in the European Galaxy,” “The Youths’ Questions on Europe,” “The Planet G20” and “The Changing World and Turkey.”