Turkey-EU crisis should be avoided

Turkey-EU crisis should be avoided

We all know German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s negative approach to Turkey’s membership of the European Union.

She never hides it. The reason why her objection to Turkey’s accession process has not led to a crisis in bilateral relations up to now was the presence of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He was so active in his opposition to Turkey that Merkel did not have to move a finger. Sarkozy got all the bashing from Turkey, while Merkel’s statement that “we will remain loyal to past commitments” received a storm of applause from Turkish audiences.

But what is less known is her dislike of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It is a matter of personal chemistry and it seems she is not very fond of the company of Mr. Erdoğan. During their visits, the times reserved for socializing are kept to a minimum.

Nothing can better illustrate her less than warm sentiments about Erdoğan than the interest she shows in the Chinese prime minister. While Germany and China are conducting strategic dialogue at prime ministerial level, Turkish–German strategic dialogue only takes place at foreign ministerial level, despite the fact that Turkish–German bilateral issues are no less crucial, if not more so, than issues of common interest to both Germany and China.

But the recent crisis between Turkey and the European Union, which might end up with a postponement of opening talks on chapter 22, goes beyond Merkel’s personal feelings about Turkey and Erdoğan.

Even the most Turkey-friendly figures are infuriated by the EU bashing of the Turkish prime minister, who has essentially targeted the European Parliament. This was bad enough already, but it is still manageable. The chances of convincing Germany were higher. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was trying to mobilize businessmen and other figures who could be influential over Merkel. Then came the statement of Egemen Bağış, the minister responsible (or the “irresponsible” as daily Taraf called him) for the EU, directly targeting Merkel. This has further infuriated the so called pro-Turkish lobby.

The EU is now facing a dilemma; giving a green light to open chapter 22 would look like rewarding the behavior of the Erdoğan–Bağış duo, whose statements are regarded as unacceptable by European circles. But refusing to open talks on chapter 22 could lead to a break up in relations, and would mean punishing Turkey’s democrats and freedom seekers who, in the eyes of the Europeans, are also made up of those who took to the streets.

Hopefully, the EU will find a mid–way, a compromise solution. Otherwise, the EU’s decision to postpone talks would most probably meet with a disproportionate reaction from the AKP government, which would lead to the AKP turning even more inward. The EU needs to remain engaged if it wants to continue to have its transformative soft power over Turkey.

Having said that, it is also obvious that not much progress should be expected in Turkish–EU relations in the coming months, as Turkey has now entered its electoral campaign process.

One just hopes that Mr. Bağış, whose credibility has been severely damaged in Brussels by his latest salvos, will refrain from inflicting further damage on relations.