Can Turkey make Europe more effective?

Can Turkey make Europe more effective?

In a recent Financial Times article, Wolfgang Münchau claimed that today’s refugee crisis posed a greater threat to the EU’s future than the euro area debates ever did. “After nearly 60 years of European integration,” argued Münchau, “We are entering the age of disintegration. It will not necessarily lead to a formal break-up of the EU - this is extremely unlikely - but it will make the EU less effective.” The article was written before the EU-Turkey migration summit on March 7, a meeting where nobody was expecting a surprise move. Yet, Turkey made one. So where are we now? Can Turkey save Europe from disintegration? Can Turkey make Europe more effective? It depends.

Let me start by expanding on the Turkish move. Up until now, Turkey considered itself an outsider to the EU’s internal discussions. It was like this for a very long time. However, Turkey is a candidate country and the current debate about the future of European institutions does matter for us. And, in the enduring debate on who is to call the shots in Europe - Brussels or the national capitals - Turkey has decided to side with Brussels. That is the gist of the Turkish move, to me. 

In 2015, the number of asylum applications to EU member states surpassed the 1 million mark. Brussels prepared a relocation plan to save Greece and Italy, where refugees have increasingly found themselves trapped after other EU states decided to shut down their borders. But guess what? It turned out to be a total failure. Now, Turkey is proposing readmission of refugees from Greek islands to Turkey, half of whom are non-Syrians, mind you. The intention is first of all to shatter the refugees’ belief that the Aegean Sea is the entrance point to Europe. Then, Turkey will settle the refugees of Syrian origin in camps and send the others back to their home states, putting an end to human trafficking over the Aegean effectively, and saving Europe while doing so. 

In return, Turkey is asking for four things from Europe. First, the Turkish government wants to double the EU’s financial assistance to 6 billion euros. Second, Turkey wants five blocked chapters to be opened and accession negotiations to be revitalized. Third, Turkey insists on a “one-for-one” plan to share the burden, asking Brussels to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey to Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. So, in a way, Turkey’s “readmission, settlement, resettlement” plan is to replace Brussels’ failed relocation strategy. Fourth, Turkey wants to facilitate the visa liberalization process and become a part of the Schengen area by mid-2016.

The latter will make the stability of Turkey a very important issue for Europe and our allies. I hear arguments that Turkey is buying the silence of Brussels in the ensuing show trials, police raids of newspaper bureaus, seizure of private property and devastating sieges in the southeast. I tend to disagree; this narrative does not accurately sum up Turkey. Nowadays, when I look at Turkey, I also see the Constitutional Court ruling that stated the arrests of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül violated their fundamental rights. I also see the reconciliation commission formed to draft a new constitution, established with equal participation from all political parties. I also see the decision of a local court stating that calling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan names does not constitute a crime. Yes, transformations are always messy processes. Turkish transformation is just a bit messier, mind you.

So again, to state à-la-Dickens, in Turkey “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom.” The country was in a similar state at the beginning of the 21st century, a period during which the EU proved to be an effective device for the liberal transformation of Turkey. Now, Brussels needs a stable Turkey to deal with the turmoil in our region, and the still surviving liberal Turkey needs the EU. 

Can Turkey make Europe more effective? Yes, most certainly. Can the EU contribute to the ongoing liberal transformation of Turkey? Yes, most certainly.