How is the EU doing post-Brexit?
Last week, Brussels initiated an unprecedented process: The suspension of Poland’s voting rights within the EU mechanism. “The European Commission has today concluded that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland,” said the official statement. The European Commission, which is the executive branch of the EU, considers Poland’s judicial reforms as a serious breach of Polish courts’ independence. “Not good for European values,” says the EU. What does this mean? Let me elaborate.
I attended the High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED) meeting between Turkey and the EU this November. As all the usual channels of communication on economic dialogue between Turkey and the EU are now effectively blocked or have become totally politicized, the European Commission invented the HLED to have at least a weak supplementary mechanism.
When the accession process stalled, we found an open channel in the customs union modernization dialogue. The first HLED started with high hopes in April last year. But when the failed coup happened in June, followed by the state of emergency decrees, the relationship further complicated.
In the November meeting this year, the highlight were the results of an Economic Development Foundation survey on Turkey’s accession process. The survey was also conducted in November. When asked whether they supported EU membership of Turkey, around 79 percent of Turks said “yes.” But when asked whether they expected Turkey to become a member of the EU anytime soon, around 69 percent of the survey participants said “no.”
This survey participants appear to have a realistic view on the state of Turkey’s EU membership bid. When asked why they were pessimistic about Turkey’s bid, 44 percent cite “double standards” practiced by the EU against Turkey as the main reason.
Turks are accustomed to hearing the following criticism from the EU: “The country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law.” We tend to consider such criticism as part of EU “double standards” against us, mind you. This time however, it is not the Turks, but the Poles who were judged.
What does this mean? Three things, if you ask me. First, it is good to hear that Europe is based on values, not religious heritage. Does this mean that the EU is still alive and kicking after the Brexit debacle? Beats me.
This brings me to my second point: Is this another manifestation of the divide between the elites and the people of Europe? In other words, is this another stepping stone to further disintegration over there? We will see.
Thirdly, Europe appears to be divided “between those who have experienced disintegration firsthand and those who know it only from textbooks,” as pointed out by Ivan Krastev. No wonder that Turkey, as a country in flux, has had excellent relations with other states that have experienced disintegration, such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and others. Perhaps shared anxieties tie us together.
With rising US unilateralism, the western alliance and the world definitely need a stronger, not a weaker EU. A stronger EU is an EU that can effectively manage the migration challenge of today, as well as the myriad challenges that will surface tomorrow, without succumbing to petty fears. Our region needs the active, transformative diplomacy of the EU once again, if you ask me. Need a reason for a stronger EU-Turkey collaboration? Here are two.