Turkey and the EU must find a new way

Turkey and the EU must find a new way

President Tayyip Erdoğan is still in a fury because of the European Parliament vote to stop negotiations with Turkey.

Over the weekend, he repeated that it was European Union governments that had been harboring terrorists acting against Turkey. 

Of course, developments like a local German court ruling to free a militant of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who was convicted of recruiting militants through force and extortion endorses Erdoğan’s line.

Before that statement, Erdoğan had threatened the EU with the prospect of opening Turkey’s gates to nearly 3 million immigrants, most of whom have fled from the civil war in Syria.

But in Ankara, some voices from within the government have started to give balancing signals in attempt to cool down the heat.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, for example, who is at the helm of an economy shaken by the devaluating lira, says that the EU was not a rotten institution as pro-government media is trying to show but represents democratic values.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a public meeting that he thought the death penalty would not be reinstated.

That is something that was brought on the night of the coup attempt of July 15 by crowds who poured into Istanbul airport in Erdoğan’s defense. Erdoğan has been echoing and supporting the idea since then. That pleases the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is in talks with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) over a new constitution for an executive presidential system that Erdoğan wants.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu says such a presidential system with weak checks and balances would drag the country into a “dictatorship and one-man rule.”

Kılıçdaroğlu has criticized EU governments as well for trying “to punish the [Turkish] nation out of reaction to one person,” implying Erdoğan. He thinks the EU should strengthen the bonds with Turkey for the good of common interests instead of pushing it away.

Because of that statement, Kılıçdaroğlu was denounced by Abdülhamid Gül, a deputy AK Parti chair in charge of talks with the MHP, as a “threat to national security.”

But the results of a recent public opinion defy Gül despite all the bold statements by President Erdoğan.

A poll by Andy-Ar, a company that predicted the AK Party victory in the latest election, showed that 47.4 percent said it would be against Turkish interests if relations with the EU were cut. Some 44.3 percent say it is positive. This adds to the fact that almost all polls show that the belief (and support) for Turkey’s EU membership is around 30 percent. Andy-Ar’s recent poll says some 75 percent believe that Turkey is drifting away from the EU. 

And despite hot-headed statements by some European governments and the European Parliament’s suggestion, the mood at the leadership level is for continuing the dialogue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s latest statement about “no plan B without Turkey” demonstrates that. It would be wrong to link this remark only with the immigration agreement. Any European politician with a vision can see that an EU with Turkey is likely to be stronger than an EU without it; a Turkey in line with EU standards of course, not a Turkey regressing following the trauma of a coup attempt.

The European Parliament vote is a bottom in Turkish-EU relations, but it could turn into an opportunity as well. Perhaps Merkel is trying to point at an opportunity like this which might be combined with Brexit. If the British exit leads up to a multi-gear EU, perhaps Turkey might have a place there, perhaps as a modified version of Merkel’s earlier “privileged partnership” suggestion.

All those are influential factors about the necessity of keeping the channels of dialogue open, especially while passing through dire straits like this.

Friends should be there to support each other at difficult times.