Neither Erdoğan nor EU the same after five years
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to leave Turkey on Jan. 20 for Brussels to have high level contact there with European Union officials.
This is going to be Erdoğan’s first visit to Brussels for EU contacts since January 2009. Then, Erdoğan had promised for more democratic reforms in Turkey and urged the EU not to block the accession of his country just because of the Greek Cypriot veto. Turkey would contribute to the EU strategically, not only because of being an exemplary democracy in the Islamic world, but also because of its access to all Middle East countries, better than most Europeans.
Indeed, Turkey was then not only talking to all countries in the region, from Israel to Iran, trying to develop relations with Armenia, having joint cabinet meetings with many neighbors from Greece to Iraq and Syria. Later that year, the new U.S. President Barack Obama would choose Turkey as the first stop in his first overseas trip; the country was a rising star.
Now, Erdoğan is going to Brussels as the prime minister of Turkey who doesn’t even have ambassadors in three of its region’s important capital; Cairo, Tel Aviv and Damascus. A negotiation chapter was opened in November 2013 after a three-year freeze. Erdoğan had to sack the former EU minister from the cabinet because of the allegations in relation with a major graft probe in December 2013 and appointed Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to that post.
Çavuşoğlu had to face strong criticism by European politicians during his first visit to Strasbourg on Jan. 14, warning Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government not to cover-up the corruption allegations and try not to block the courts that want to investigate them. Erdoğan refuted the criticisms and asked Turkey’s ambassadors abroad, in a yearly conference in Ankara last week that, they should tell the world the graft probe was not real, but a cover for a “coup attempt” against him by a “parallel” structure within the government apparatus, run by the sympathizers of a U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen, once his closest ally.
There are European politicians who took the opportunity to call for an immediate freeze of negotiations with Turkey. It was Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who wrote a letter to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament last week and said the Erdoğan government should be forced to adopt EU standards more and that to cut EU links with Turkey would be a mistake and “would only strengthen the hands of those who would wish to steer Turkey away from its Euro-Atlantic moorings.”
Schulz is among the top EU officials who are going to meet Erdoğan in Brussels, along with Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council and José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called the EU on Jan. 19 and said Erdoğan was ready to discuss all issues, including the row over government-judiciary crisis, but the EU should be patient for some time more and stop discriminating against Turkey. This is rather a defensive position for a visit after a five-year interval. That’s why Eroğan’s patience while talking to EU officials is likely to play a more determinative role in the near future of Turkish-EU relations.