EU learning about Turkey’s importance the hard way

EU learning about Turkey’s importance the hard way

If negotiations between Ankara and the European Union were not frozen due to the France-Germany-Greek Cyprus trio, by now Turkey would have had an integrated border management system. Currently from the Coast Guard to the gendarmerie, from the Agriculture Ministry to the Customs Ministry, nearly a dozen state institutions have a say on the borders.

Whether Turkey will be an asset or a liability for the old continent is also in the hands of Europe. Turning a blind eye to the importance of Turkey both as an asset and a liability, Europe opted to learn the hard way. And now Turkey-EU relations are back on the agenda. 

Why? Because after turning a deaf ear to Turkey’s outcry for cooperation and burden-sharing, Europe is now facing an intensified refugee crisis. It is courting the government so that Turkey becomes the gatekeeper for Syrian refugees. 

Some may ask why it has taken so long for Europe to act while the Syrian refugee crisis has been there for the past four years. The answer is simple: As of this summer, Syrian refugees started to realize that, first of all, there was no prospect of peace and therefore no chance of going back to their homeland in the short- and medium- and even long-term. Second, there were no prospects for them in Turkey in terms of education or the health system, while employment opportunities have remained closed to them. So they started moving en masse to Europe. As a result, Europe, the champion of human rights, decided to show its benevolence in the face of a humanitarian crisis not in its soil, but rather on Turkish soil.

But the Turks are not stupid. They refused the “take the money, deal with the mess and keep me out of it,” equation from the EU. “And by the way, we will turn a blind eye to anti-democratic practices in Turkey and postpone the publication of the progress report until after the elections” has not been enough to convince Ankara as well. Thank God!! The ruling party’s “horse trading” tactics seems to be working for a good cause this time.

“If you want to cooperate with us, this cannot come a la carte,” Europeans were told. The government was set to use Europe’s urgent need to secure Turkey’s cooperation on the migrant crisis as a means to revitalize the accession process as well as speed up the visa liberalization talks. 

Will that work? Let’s hope the government to be formed after the elections as well as the Turkish civil service makes it work. As there is no light at the end of the tunnel in Syria or Iraq, the Middle Eastern front promises nothing but headaches for Turkey. So there is urgent need to revitalize the Western front. 

With negotiations to find a solution in Cyprus going quickly in the right direction, Turkey’s accession talks can gain momentum with the Cyprus problem out of the way. For that we might have to wait until the first half of 2016, which will coincide with the start of talks to update and deepen the Customs Union. Modernizing the Customs Union with the aim of becoming a party to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which could go in parallel to accession talks, is crucial. As was underlined by Sinan Ülgen, who prepared a report on behalf of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), the deepening of the Customs Union will have a positive influence on Turkey’s economic governance. Integrating Turkey further with the EU’s single market will bring about a convergence of Turkey’s economic legislation and regulatory framework “shaping Turkey’s business and investment environment with the EU.” And that in turn will improve the predictability of public policy, which impacts economic endeavors, according to Ülgen. 

Reviving Turkey-EU relations both via revitalizing accession talks and the Customs Union will have both positive political and economic results. 

So if the EU can deliver on genuinely reviving Turkish-EU cooperation on all fronts, at the expense of curbing criticism against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s one-man rule aspirations, I can live with that. After all, strengthening Turkey’s anchor to the EU will be the best security valve against authoritarianism.