Turkey is entering into a delusional honeymoon with Europe
“The Netherlands is going to pay for this,” roared Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 2017. He was reacting to the Dutch government’s refusal to let Turkish ministers campaign in Rotterdam ahead of the April referendum.
Turkey started to apply sanctions to the Netherlands and asked for an apology. Ankara withdrew its ambassador and asked the Dutch ambassador, who was outside of Turkey at the time, not to come back.
Whether the Netherlands paid the desired cost and offered the desired apology is not very clear but the two countries decided to normalize their relations last July and appointed envoys to each other’s capitals. The Dutch foreign minister is expected to visit Turkey next month.
Erdoğan compared German officials to Nazis when his demand to campaign in this country was turned down. He even called on the Turks not to vote for the mainstream parties during general elections, which took place around this time last year. Berlin is now preparing to welcome him for a state visit scheduled to start today.
Does that mean relations are back on track with Europe? Will the two sides say “this is where have we left off” and continue as if nothing has happened? Unless an improvement in bilateral relations with individual European countries are not reflected and replicated in Turkey’s “institutional” relations with the European Union, the answer to this question will be negative.
If Turkey’s accession talks remain frozen, if there is no green light to update the Customs Union and no progress in terms of applying the remaining parts of the refugee deal like visa free travel to Europe, then the normalization of relations with European capitals can attest to one thing: Even if Turkey remains a member of NATO and the Council of Europe, it is no longer seen as part of the transatlantic Alliance and it is degraded to the same category of just another “Middle Eastern country,” one which does not qualify to be a part of Europe due to its weak democratic credentials but one with which maintaining a high level of dialogue is important for several reasons.
These reasons may include:
- It serving as a buffer zone between refugees and the European continent,
- Its willingness to spend billions of dollars to assume NATO missions,
- It still remaining a lucrative market when compared to its neighboring countries.
If there is no improvement in institutional relations with the EU, then that is because Turkey refuses to take the necessary steps to roll back the democratic backpedaling that has been occurring for some time. And if European capitals decide to normalize relations in the absence of any improvement in democratic standards in Turkey, then this means they unofficially ended Turkey’s accession process to the EU.
This is actually in line with French President Emmanuel Macron’s overall view about Turkey. Macron placed Turkey in the same category with Russia and said Europe should forge a strategic partnership with Russia and Turkey and should end the EU membership prospect with the latter.
This is also the line endorsed by Germany to be followed by the others. Erdoğan is going to Berlin at a time when Turkey is facing serious economic hardship. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Prime Minister Angela Merkel are hosting him despite heavy criticism from their public.
Most likely, the German government will not come with generous offers to salvage the ailing Turkish economy. Not only because German officials fear the public reaction, but because they would not like to boost an administration that still holds citizens hostage in their eyes. But it would not be surprising to find out, perhaps at later stages, that some indirect financial mechanisms will be introduced in order to avoid a “hard landing” of the Turkish economy, which could work against the German interest.
As the visit comes a day after the European Parliament decided to cancel 70 million euros in funds earmarked for Turkey on the ground that the conditions to improve the rule of law were not met, even the “photo-ops” in Berlin will be presented by the Turkish side as major achievements.
However, Turkey’s relations with Europe can never reach its full potential to serve the interest of both sides in the absence of an institutional EU anchor.
And if Turkey is ready to let go of the institutional anchor, then why did Ankara fiercely criticize Macron’s statement?