What is left of Turkish-EU relations?
In Turkish-EU relations, the European Commission has generally been an ally of Turkey. This has been proven one more time, as the Commission did not bow under the pressure from some member countries to officially conclude Turkey no longer fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria required for membership talks.
Had the Commission done so, this could have led to the official suspension of EU accession negotiations, which would have put the Turkish membership process on an irreversible path. Once suspended, it would be nearly impossible to restart negotiations, as this would require the consent of all member countries.
The fact remains that, as Turkey has fallen below democratic standards, the membership process is currently on hold.
What is left then of Turkish-EU relations?
On the relatively positive side, the refugee deal is working and set to continue. The cooperation against terrorism is also turning into a working relationship according to Turkish officials, as Turkey and EU members are increasing efforts, especially against the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters. Holding high level meetings and summits on different topics has been taking place, namely on the economy, transportation and foreign policy. These meetings might also continue on other topics as these talks do not bring about binding conclusions.
The lifting of the visa requirement from Turkish citizens seems unlikely to happen, as the Turkish government was asked to lift the emergency rule and to amend its anti-terror law. While the emergency rule has finally been lifted, if the commission endorses the view that new laws endorsed in the parliament contain elements of the emergency rule, the next round of talks on this issue (if there ever will be in the future) will be conversations around a vicious circle leading to no result.
The same thing is valid for the upgrading of the Customs Union. Without improvement in the democratic situation, it will be hard to even see the mention of eventually modernizing the Customs Union.
Currently, the Turkish leadership seems set to improve its bilateral ties with member countries and increase multilateral cooperation in strategic issues. Following the normalization of relations with the Netherlands came the news that Turkey will host a summit with Russia, France, and Germany on the Syrian problem. There is also news that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be visiting Germany by the end of September.
Keeping relations with EU countries at a transactional level suits the interest of Ankara as it liberates it from the obligation of improving democratic standards. Warming the climate that has been poisoning relations might also appeal to EU member countries. But Turkey will be a more meaningful partner if it has a strong economy and for that, the rule of law is imperative. If relations were to warm up with individual EU countries and a better working dialogue on a bilateral basis were to be established, demands from EU members for democratic improvement might find a way to come across. But for that they have to keep democracy issues on their working agenda with Turkey.