EU expects Turkey to take steps before normalization
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Brussels last month, where he met with European Commission officials as well as heads of states and governments, came as a fresh air of optimism. Erdoğan’s harsh rhetoric against the EU during the recent referendum campaign, coupled with the crises that erupted between Ankara and several European capitals, had fuelled fears of a break up.
The most important outcome of the Brussels meeting is the fact that dialogue will continue between the two sides. Full stop. Apart from that there is not much to be optimist about.
European diplomats have particularly been warning about optimism among the ruling cadres in Turkey (take this as meaning the presidency).
“If the impression is that it will be business as usual, that we will forget everything that happened during the referendum campaign and continue the dialogue from where we left off, then that is a wrong impression,” one European diplomat told me.
Recalling disagreements with Austria, the crisis with Holland (whose ambassador has still not returned to Ankara), and problematic relations with Germany, he said these issues have left “serious marks.” “One cannot pretend that we have not gone through these problems, in fact difficulties are still ongoing,” the diplomat added.
European capitals are now expecting Turkey to take certain steps to revive relations. The end of the state of emergency, as well as the release of journalists and academics, seem to be at the top of their list of expectations.
Need to revive EU relations ahead of 2019 elections
A not insignificant number of people in Ankara who think there is an urgent need to revive relations with the EU, to reenergize the economy, and thus to go to the 2019 elections under better economic and political circumstances. But the degree to which they have any influence is another question.
No one can predict the new turn on Turkish–EU relations except President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But even if he were to give a green light to certain steps that will improve the democratic situation in Turkey in line with the expectations of European capitals, the scars he has left on relations with Europe are there to stay for a long time.
However, despite Turkey’s frustrations with some European capitals, and although some of them are understandable to a certain degree, it is up to Ankara to work to improve relations with Brussels. This is not only important in terms of economic interests but also in terms of foreign policy interests.
At a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies are fueling global instability, seen most recently in the latest Middle East crisis, Turkey’s interests lies in cooperating with Europe to offset U.S. damage in regional politics.
Picking a fight with European capitals while Trump remains untouchable does not make sense in terms of Turkey’s interests. If some think Turkey can be an influential actor as a lone wolf, they are seriously delusional.