EU says Turkey is bigger than President Erdoğan

EU says Turkey is bigger than President Erdoğan

“So what happened with the European Union?” a friend of mine asked in a Facebook post. She is a scholar who specializes in Turkey–EU relations. “If you don’t understand, it’s only natural for us not to understand,” replied some of her friends.

The confusion stems from the contradictory steps and statements that we keep seeing from both sides. There are those on both sides who want to use every occasion to bash the other side, while others are left to try to conduct damage control. 

In addition, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) decision to reopen the monitoring procedure on Turkey has further muddied the water in terms of Turkish–EU relations. How could it not?

PACE decided to place Turkey under the monitoring procedure until “serious concerns” about respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law “are addressed in a satisfactory manner.” 

PACE is concerned about what the EU calls the Copenhagen criteria, which need to be fulfilled in order to be a candidate for EU membership. PACE’s decision practically strengthens the arguments in Europe that Turkey’s accession process should be officially suspended. I say “officially” because accession talks are physically frozen at present.

But the EU’s political body avoided taking such a decision in its meeting last Friday, saying the door is still open to Turkey becoming a member and it was up to Ankara to do its part to keep this door open.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that despite the doubts expressed by some foreign ministers during the meeting, Brussels for now is in favor of continuing the protracted accession talks with Turkey.
“It is up to them to express their willingness to continue to be a candidate country and to continue to be interested, or to not join our family,” Mogherini said. 

As I have been arguing for some time, the EU does not want to be the one to push the button to end Turkey’s membership process, which would not serve its interests in the medium or long term. 

Talking about closing the doors on Turkey may well be beneficial for populist leaders building their careers on the fears of voters who think that building walls can be a panacea to their problems. But leaders with common sense know that freezing accession talks with Ankara will not be the magical formula to decrease unemployment levels and increase growth in Europe. For now, populist leaders have not yet taken over the EU.

That is why until Turkey gives a definite sign that it no longer wants to be a member, the EU will abstain from being the one to say “it’s over.” 

Some in Europe might argue that Turkey has already given such a sign by voting “yes” in the referendum.

 Some short-sighted commentators in Europe, especially in Germany, almost celebrated the result that came in favor of Erdoğan. “You Turks voted for Erdoğan and this means you have a made a choice: You don’t want to be part of the EU,” you can almost hear them say. 

But it’s worth pointing out that Americans as a nation have not been the target of such demonizing rhetoric despite electing someone like Donald Trump, nor have Hungarians been targeting for repeatedly electing Victor Orban, someone you can hardly label as a beacon of democracy.

The EU has taken into consideration that one in every two Turkish citizens voted against the constitutional changes favored by Erdoğan. Instead of equating Turkey with Erdoğan, it said “Turkey is bigger than Erdoğan.”

But obviously it will be increasingly difficult to keep Turkey under the “candidate” status while it continues to fall short of fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. Ultimately, a credit account has been opened for Turkey, which will come under review after the German elections this autumn.