Is Turkey’s revived EU interest genuine or tactical?

Is Turkey’s revived EU interest genuine or tactical?

Hürriyet Daily News’ Dec. 15 front page could come as an oxymoron in terms of Turkey’s relations with the European Union.

As can be expected the main story is on the reactivation of Turkey’s accession talks with the EU, as negotiations on Chapter 17 on Economic and Monetary Policy officially opened yesterday after a five-year standstill in the membership process.

“Opening of new chapter raises Turkey’s EU hopes,” says the headline. For those of us who have been a staunch supporter of the benefits of Turkey being anchored to the EU, obviously this news gives room for some hope.

Sadly, the news below dashes whatever glimmer of hope the news above inspired. The news below, which can be considered the second most important news summarizing Dec. 14, reads” “Operation expected in southeast amid curfew.” It is accompanied by a heartbreaking picture that shows teachers and locals leaving Cizre in southeastern Şırnak province.

The Education Ministry reportedly sent a text message at around noon on Dec. 13 and requested that teachers working in Cizre and nearby Silopi attend “in-service training that can be completed in their hometowns.” Thousands of teachers as well as locals started leaving the two cities before the indeterminate curfew that was scheduled to start on the night of Dec. 14.

Cizre and Silopi have seen violent clashes between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the past, yet it is the first time the state has asked its officials to leave a town where violent clashes are expected to take place. 

In the past it would have been impossible to see these two news stories on the same page. Turkey sceptics in Europe, who do not want to see the country’s accession to the 28 nation bloc, would use it as a reason to suspend talks. Those who would genuinely want to see a democratic transformation in Turkey would have asked for a postponement, using the accession process as leverage to force the government to refrain from using force to solve the Kurdish problem.

It appears that both wings in Europe are so preoccupied by the influx of refugees that so long as Turkey’s cooperation is secured on that issue, the rest is meaningless. In the eyes of Europe, Turkey is no longer a candidate but a country in the status of Saudi Arabia or Egypt, with which one cooperates despite human rights violations. Saying it does so does not suit the interests of the parties. So Turkey officially maintains its candidate status.

While we can explain Europe’s acceptance to revive the accession talks (which was put forward as a condition by Turkey to secure cooperation on the refugee crisis), how can we explain Turkey’s revived interest in the EU? High-level Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials have been recently telling EU diplomats that membership is the government’s strategic aim. Some of them have been wondering to what degree this is genuine.  

Obviously, it is not genuine but tactical. One can see that in the statements Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek made in Brussels ahead of the launch of talks on Chapter 17.

Turkey’s opening of a new accession chapter with the EU was important for investment and prosperity, Şimşek said.

Turkey desperately needs investment and past record shows that the majority of foreign direct investment came from Europe, especially after each time Turkey further strengthened its relations with the EU, be it the establishment of the Customs Union, Turkey’s official recognition as a candidate or the start of accession talks. 

Indeed, this revived interest is tactical. Re-energized relations will also have a political dividend which is again needed by Turkey, which is having strained relations with most of its neighbors in the region. 

So should we lose our hopes and become bitter in the face of the EU’s and Turkey’s hypocrisy?

Some may choose to do so. But for those who want to struggle for a democratic Turkey there is no better ally than the anchor to the EU.

Even the weakest anchor to the EU can have a transformative effect even if it comes on a limited scale.