Two Turkeys facing the European Union

Two Turkeys facing the European Union

When it comes to relations with the European Union there are two Turkeys: The political rulers of Turkey and the remnants in the civil bureaucracy of a small group who still believe in the benefit of keeping the “institutional dialogue within the framework of the accession process.” 

Dialogue with the EU and “institutional dialogue between the EU and a candidate” are two separate things. There is already dialogue with the EU; both within the framework of bilateral dialogue with each European capital but also within the framework of talks with the EU representative.

In fact, that is why EU foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn will be coming to Ankara today, Nov. 22. They will meet Turkey’s foreign minister for the Turkey-EU High Level Political Dialogue Meeting.

This will be a meeting that will consolidate the new “normal” in Turkish-EU relations. The new normal is an “a la carte” type of dialogue where you talk on issues of high interest to both sides, while sidelining issues of high interest for a successful accession process.

This is actually defined as a transactional relationship, which enables keeping dialogue and cooperation going on issues of strategic importance to both. In other words, the refugee deal, developments in Syria and Iraq and Iran sanctions are part of the main menu, while Ankara’s reaction to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling on Selahattin Demirtaş, the long detention of Osman Kavala, the latest detention waves against prominent academics like Professor Betül Tanbay are but side dishes.

By now, the representatives of the EU are aware that their real interlocutor on these issues is not the foreign minister and that they do not have any leverage over the “real interlocutor.”

What they also know is that local elections are approaching and with the deteriorating economic situation, the ruling party needs scapegoats to divert attention, fuel fears to avoid losing votes and to further polarize the society in order to consolidate its own ranks. So why bother with issues where there will not be serious progress?

Tell the foreign minister behind closed doors you are concerned about democratic standards in Turkey, listen to him patiently talking about Turkey’s need to fight with “terrorists” and that there is an independent judiciary. Come out from the meeting and tell the media you have conveyed your messages of concern on democratic standards. Listen patiently to the foreign minister’s harsh reaction to these statements in front of the press (which is actually an address to his constituency in Antalya) and go back to Brussels with a dossier that gives you crucial figures: The number of refugees that were stopped crossing the borders from Turkey to Europe, the number of European origin jihadists detected by Turkey and so on.

We have the “real interlocutor” part in Turkey, who is not interested in the accession process. Where is the other Turkey you were talking to in the beginning, you might ask?

As I have said, there are a handful of officials who believe there is still room, even if very small, to register some improvement, especially in legal and judiciary matters through the “institutional accession dialogue” with the EU. Even changing one little sentence in a draft law can at least limit the damage on rights violations and even that is an important improvement in the current suffocating circumstances, they probably think.

How else can we explain the news that “Turkey wants to get out of the monitoring mechanism of the Council of Europe?” That cannot be a priority of key decision makers but rather that of a smaller group that believes setting such a target could perhaps move a few stones in Ankara.

Unfortunately, they probably have not foreseen that the highest official response to the ECHR’s latest decision on Turkey would be a complete rebuff of the ruling. There goes the hope of registering some improvement in legal issues by using the “carrot” to get out of the monitoring mechanism.

After all, it would be rather naïve to expect European Parliamentarians to even consider the issue when Turkey’s top representative has been highly critical of one of the most important bodies of the Council of Europe.