Things not to do to save Turkey-EU relations

Things not to do to save Turkey-EU relations

There are still things that all concerned parties can do to save relations between Turkey and the EU, which currently seem to be on a crash course heading to the wall.

Finding a way to get the immigration-visa liberalization agreement implemented is one of them. Turkish EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik signaled on Nov. 29 that European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans had been working on a solution package together with Turkish diplomats, which could bring some results in his upcoming visit to Ankara.

According to unofficial information in the political backstage, there are also works ongoing with Turkey’s justice and interior ministries to amend demands to change the country’s anti-terror law, despite the ongoing political trauma after the bloody July 15 coup attempt and acts of terror by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Due to the general political circumstances, if the immigration-visa agreement is to be implemented, neither the granted visa flexibilities will be the same as Turkey desires nor will the changes in the anti-terror law be as the EU demands. But at least a compromise would show that the bureaucratic system is working behind closed doors, of course on the instructions of the respective political leaderships, despite the public war of words.

It seems that both Turkey and the EU intend to find a face-saving solution, an honorable exit. This is good, because Ankara-Brussels relations certainly need every bit of positive news they can get nowadays, regardless of how irrelevant and even if only for face-saving purposes.

After all, decreasing the tension in public opinion and moving it to a more low-key level in the public agenda is much needed.

Germany is likely to play the key role in putting relations back on track (or, more correctly, finding a “new normal” in EU-Turkey relations). This is because Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is the locomotive political and economic power in the EU – particularly after the Brexit vote and amid the declining influence of France due to domestic political uncertainties. It is also because of the more than 3 million Turkish-origin people living in Germany, who strengthen the economic and historical ties between the two countries. Due to a combination of all these factors, Germany would not want to lose Turkey and Turkey would not want to lose Germany, despite all the ups and downs that are natural for such a deep-rooted and long-standing relationship.

If relations between Turkey and Germany are to be put back on track, or find a new normal, relations with the EU would follow. Mending fences in relations after so much damage has been done may take time, but there are also things not to do in both Turkish-German and Turkish-EU relations to overcome the current dire straits.

The first thing that both Turkish and European politicians should avoid doing is bringing the issue into their domestic political campaigns. When it comes to domestic political competition, the sky is the limit for attacks on the other side, and involving Turkey or Brussels in this rhetoric cannot help things get better.

The Ankara government suggests that harsh criticism from European politicians further alienates the Turkish people, at a time when they are suffering from continued acts of terror and still in the post-coup attempt trauma. Even if it may not be the intention of EU politicians, few ordinary Turkish people are happy with remarks implying empathy toward the PKK or the Gülenists rather than themselves.

On the EU side, the last red line would be a reintroduction of the death penalty. Arrested journalists, arrested politicians, are mass dismissals from public jobs are all problems, but the final straw for Turkey to lose the last support it can get would be reinstating capital punishment. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government should drop that from its agenda in order to improve relations with the democratic world generally - not only with the EU.